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Video: Edwin Poots elected as new DUP leader

 Edwin Poots has been elected as the new leader of the DUP. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA
David Young and Rebecca Black, PA

Edwin Poots has been elected as the new leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.

Agriculture Minister Mr Poots was vying with the party’s Westminster leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson to replace Arlene Foster, who announced her resignation last month.

The Lagan Valley MLA won by a razor-thin 19 votes to 17 in the poll carried out within the party’s 36-strong electoral college.

It was the first contested leadership vote in the DUP's 50-year history.

Mr Poots has made clear that he would break with DUP tradition and not appoint himself Stormont First Minister if elected party leader.

Explaining that he wants to focus 100% on the leadership, he is set to appoint a party colleague to the role at the head of the powersharing administration at Stormont.

In his acceptance speech, Mr Poots, who recently underwent cancer surgery, pledged that the DUP would be the "authentic voice" for unionism under his leadership.

"It is an immense honour and pleasure to stand here today in this position, it is not a position that I expected to be in some weeks ago," he said in an address at party headquarters in east Belfast.

"However, things can change quite radically."

Read more: Frequently outspoken Edwin Poots is no stranger to controversy

Mr Poots added: "I'm looking forward to a positive relationship right across Northern Ireland with my party colleagues and indeed with people from other parties.

"I think the opportunities for Northern Ireland are great, the opportunities for us to make Northern Ireland a great place after this 100 years has passed and we move into a new 100 years."

Read more: William Scholes: Unionism finds itself stuck at the crossroads in reverse gear (premium)

Mr Poots praised the "resilience" of Northern Ireland people through the first 100 years of its existence.

"It's that resilience that we are going to go forward and make Northern Ireland a good place," he said in an address at party headquarters in east Belfast.

"My father was a founder member of the DUP some 50 years ago, and I joined after the death of the Reverend Robert Bradford MP in 1981 and throughout all of that period this party has been the authentic voice of unionism and will continue to be the authentic voice of unionism under my leadership."

Mr Poots said he wanted to prioritise job creation and improving educational attainment in disadvantaged areas.

He said he wanted to tackle the problems within the region's health service and address the spiralling treatment waiting lists.

"There's much to do, there's much to be done and I stand here today very proud to be taking up the mantle as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and that brings with it responsibility to all of unionism," he said.

"I want to say this very clearly - I will be a leader in unionism who'll be reaching out to other leaders in unionism. I want to see unionism working together.

"The Northern Ireland Protocol is proving to be a massive challenge for us and if we are to fight this to ensure that everybody in Northern Ireland is not worse off as a consequence of the protocol, then it's for us to do that together.

"And I want to ensure that that is the case, that we don't have the unionist bickering that we've had in the past, and I will encourage all unionists to work with me to deliver an end which ensures we set the foundations in this (year) 2021 for another 100 years of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom."

Read more: 

Mrs Foster was ousted after an internal heave by party colleagues unhappy with her leadership and will step down from that role on May 28, and as Stormont first minister at the end of June.

Mr Poots will be leader designate until Ms Foster formally stands down. His election will now go to the party executive for ratification.

The DUP politicians eligible to vote comprised the party’s eight MPs and 28 Assembly members.

The voting by way of secret ballot took place at the party headquarters in east Belfast through this afternoon.

Ahead of the vote, Sir Jeffrey and Mr Poots made final pitches for support in a virtual hustings event this morning.

Paula Bradley was elected the party’s new deputy leader. She defeated Gregory Campbell by 18 votes to 16.

Read more: DUP gathers at party HQ to vote

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has congratulated Edwin Poots.

He said his door is always open and that he looks forward to engaging with Mr Poots.

The Taoiseach said his meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier was to "underpin" the power sharing institutions and the Good Friday Agreement.

"Both the British prime minister and I were very clear on that, that as co-guarantors of the agreement we had an obligation to work to underpin the institutions and I think it is important that all parties and all signatories to that agreement would work to ensure that we both protect the institutions and make sure they work effectively on behalf of everybody who lives on the island," he said.

"So my door is open and of course, we look forward to engaging."

Outgoing Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken has congratulated Edwin Poots but said his "fingerprints are all over the Northern Ireland Protocol".

He said: "I would wish to extend our congratulations to Edwin Poots on being elected DUP leader and to Paula Bradley as deputy leader.

"Edwin may try to signal his election as a new era for the DUP following Arlene's resignation, but no matter what way you look at it, his fingerprints are all over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

"If the new DUP leader wishes to present the image of a 'new' approach, he owes us all an explanation as to how his party's squandering of their transient period of influence has resulted in the damaging position we now find ourselves in.

"Regrettably, the so-called stewardship of the Union in the DUP's hands has been an abject failure - not just for Unionism but for all the people of Northern Ireland."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood tweeted: "Congratulations edwinpootsmla. Time now for everyone to recommit to working together."

Sinn Féin Finance Minister Conor Murphy told the BBC: "To be quite honest I had no particular preference for either candidate for the leadership. What I want to see is Edwin bring some stability to that party.

"We have been suffering in the Executive from internal instability within the DUP who are one of the leading partners in government here, and I hope that settles down and we can get back to doing what the Executive have committed to do and that is see our way through the pandemic, deal with all of the challenges we have around economic downturn, the challenges that Brexit will throw at us and all of the commitments we made in going back into government.

"I wish Edwin well, I have worked with him for a long number of years and I want to see him come back and work with the other four parties in the Executive."

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald wished Edwin Poots well and said the incoming leader of the DUP "faces a new political landscape in the north, across the island and indeed between our two islands".

"Change is happening and we need to prepare for it," she added.

“Sinn Féin wants power sharing to work and we are strongly committed to making our political institutions work so that we can create a better, fairer and more equal society for all.”

Brtish Prime Minister Boris Johnson congratulated Edwin Poots on Twitter.

The prime minister tweeted: "I want to congratulate @EdwinPootsmla on his election as leader of the @duponline.

"People across the UK are best served when we work together, & I look forward to working with him, @BrandonLewis & the wider Executive as we build back stronger for the people of Northern Ireland."

Alliance Justice Minister Naomi Long tweeted her congratulations to Edwin Poots and Paula Bradley, saying "We have huge challenges ahead as an Executive and our success will depend on our willingness to work together constructively for the common good. I'm committed to playing my part".

Alliance North Down MP Stephen Farry told the BBC: "Congratulations to Edwin and also to Paula. I have known Edwin for quite some time and served with him as a minister. I have always found him personable and at times he can be pragmatic.

"But it struck me whenever he said about the priority of reaching out to unionism, I think that sets the wrong tone, it is important that he reaches out across the whole spectrum."

Read more: Analysis: Regardless of who triumphs the DUP seems incapable of changing

You can watch the election results here:

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