Northern Ireland news

Edwin Poots elected leader of the DUP - how it all unfolded this afternoon

David Young and Rebecca Black, PA

Edwin Poot has been elected as the next leader of the DUP.

Mr Poots got 19 votes to Jeffrey Donaldson's 17 votes.

North Belfast Assembly member Paula Bradley has been elected deputy leader.

The 36 members of the party’s electoral college, made up of its MPs and Stormont Assembly members, cast their votes between 12pm and 4pm at party headquarters in east Belfast. By 1pm, 19 DUP politicians had voted.

Party chairman Lord Morrow confirmed the vote at around 4.40pm.

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The DUP is voting to elect either Edwin Poots or Jeffrey Donaldson as party leader. Cartoon by Ian Knox

Watch the live announcement here:

Jeffrey Donaldson was in confident mood as he left DUP headquarters after making his online pitch for votes.

"Feeling good," he told waiting reporters as he left with DUP MP and deputy leadership contender Gregory Campbell.

Edwin Poots was non-committal as he left party headquarters.

Asked what the mainstay of his leadership pitch was, Mr Poots said "reform".

Briefly speaking to the media as she left party headquarters after casting her ballot, outgoing First Minister Arlene Foster said: "I voted for the person who will bring the Democratic Unionist Party forward and I think that's very obvious."

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East Antrim DUP MP Sammy Wilson declined to say whether he would be voting for Sir Jeffrey Donaldson or Edwin Poots.

"It's a secret ballot and that's the way it should stay," he said.

He said it was important that there was a choice for those voting.

"It shows that there is a choice for those who have got the right to vote to have that choice and I think that there is a good choice between the two candidates and we will see who wins," he said.

"I think everyone has thought long and hard about this one, it's the first time we have had a choice and I think that both candidates have merits. It's a secret ballot and it will remain secret and even after it is all over it will remain secret. Well, my vote will anyhow."

He added Northern Ireland faces huge economic problems in the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic as well as the Northern Ireland Protocol.

"We have to find our way through for the good of consumers and businesses in Northern Ireland. That's what will unite us, fighting for the people of Northern Ireland, not fighting amongst ourselves," he said.

As he arrived at headquarters, South Belfast MLA Christopher Stalford, who is supporting Mr Poots, said: "I think it's going to be a good day, a good day for democracy inside the Democratic Unionist Party."

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North Antrim MP Ian Paisley said his father, the party's founder, would be "immensely proud" that a democratic election was deciding the next leader.

"It's a party that my dad founded with the name democracy in it and this is a democratic decision," he said.

"At last the members, the elected members, are deciding who their leader is.

"That's a very important decision and I know he would be immensely proud of that today."

 Edwin Poots (right) with Ian Paisley Jr, after leaving DUP headquarters in Belfast after voting in the party's leadership election. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Strangford MP Jim Shannon told reporters why he was supporting Sir Jeffrey Donaldson as next DUP leader.

"I think Jeffrey has qualities that take him beyond Northern Ireland and across to the mainland," he said.

"I think those are statesman-like qualities that the party needs."

In the event of a tied result, the matter will be passed to party officers to decide the next step, with a re-run of the vote a possibility.

The pair are running to replace outgoing leader Arlene Foster, who announced her resignation last month.

Mrs Foster was ousted after an internal heave initiated by party colleagues unhappy with her leadership.

Her decision to step down as party leader on May 28, and as first minister at the end of June, has prompted the first contest in the DUP’s 50-year history.

The contenders to succeed Nigel Dodds as deputy leader, Gregory Campbell, Paula Bradley and Paul Frew. However, PA understands that Paul Frew has withdrawn.

Yesterday DUP Westminster leader Sir Jeffrey and Agriculture Minister Mr Poots both circulated eve-of-poll messages to their colleagues.

Under a “strength and experience to lead” strapline, Mr Poots insisted he has the “right plan to reform our party” and to “reinvigorate unionism”.

Lagan Valley MLA Mr Poots previously indicated that he will nominate a colleague to serve as First Minister.

Sir Jeffrey’s final message to voters included a pledge to stand in the next Assembly election and become First Minister himself.

The long-standing Lagan Valley MP promised “major changes” and “greater participative structures” within the party, and pledged to provide “united leadership to unionism and the country”.

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