Northern Ireland news

DUP prepares to elect new leadership team after secret ballot

Edwin Poots has vowed to end DUP policy-making 'on the hoof'

A NEW DUP leadership team will be named today as the party's MLAs and MPs vote to elect a successor to Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds.

The contest between Edwin Poots and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the first in the party's history, comes just over a fortnight since Mrs Foster stepped down.

Her successor will elected by the party's 28 MLAs and eight MPs who will meet virtually to hear both men's pitches before voting in a secret ballot.

Sir Jeffrey and Mr Poots will have 10 minutes each to speak to the electoral college.

The result is expected to be announced after 4pm.

Last night both men issue eve-of-poll messages in a final bid to clinch the position.

Bookmaker Paddy Power last night had Sir Jeffrey as the clear 4/9 favourite, with Mr Poots' odds a considerably longer 13/8.

The Stormont agriculture minister's leadership campaign began with a flurry of social media endorsements from his allies, however, in the two weeks since only Ian Paisley has publicly backed Mr Poots.

The Irish News reported last week how the Lagan Valley MLA's team had voiced concern about a lack of fresh supporters coming forward.

At the same time those close to Sir Jeffrey, who launched his leadership bid four days after his sole competitor, said the DUP Westminster leader had "support from across the MLA group" and the backing of at least five fellow MPs.

The Lagan Valley MP has received public endorsements from three MPs and two MLAs, which means there are up to 20 DUP representatives who have yet to name their preferred candidate publicly.

The MLAs and MPs will also elect the party's new deputy leader, again for the first time in the DUP's 50-year history, with North Belfast MLA Paula Bradley, North Antrim MLA Paul Frew and East Derry MP Gregory Campbell competing for the role.

Candidates in both elections have been ordered not to speak to the media about the contests.

The two leadership candidates have circulated manifestos among the electoral college.

In an eve-of-poll message last night, Mr Poots, tells the party electorate that he believes he has the "right plan to reform our party" and to "reinvigorate unionism".

Mr Poots previously indicated he will nominate a colleague to serve as first minister.

Sir Jeffrey's final message to voters includes a pledge to stand in the next Assembly election, scheduled to take place in May 2021, and become first minister.

He has promised "major changes" and "greater participative structures" within the party, and pledged to provide "united leadership to unionism and the country".

The contenders to succeed Lord Dodds as deputy leader, Gregory Campbell, Paula Bradley and Paul Frew, will each have five minutes to make their case.

The outgoing DUP leader will step down from that role on May 28, and as Stormont First Minister at the end of June.

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