Northern Ireland

Edwin Poots ratified as DUP leader but party divisions on full view

Edwin Poots arriving for a meeting to be ratified as new leader of the DUP. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Edwin Poots arriving for a meeting to be ratified as new leader of the DUP. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire

THE DUP last night ratified Edwin Poots as its new leader but the party's internal divisions remained in full view as Arlene Foster spoke of her "brutal' ousting.

Members met at a hotel in south Belfast to confirm Mr Poots as leader and Paula Bradley as his deputy following leadership contests.

The UUP also held a virtual meeting last night to ratify Doug Beattie as its new leader, after Steve Aiken stepped down earlier this month.

At the DUP meeting, members rejected by 56 votes to 47 a call to have a secret ballot to endorse the new leader.

Ms Foster left before Mr Poots took to the stand to make his inaugural speech as leader, as did other senior figures including defeated leadership candidate Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson, economy minister Diane Dodds and veteran MP Gregory Campbell.

Ms Foster had earlier commented on her removal as leader, telling the BBC's Newscast podcast that “even by DUP standards it was pretty brutal”.

In his speech, Mr Poots said next year's election would be a "titanic struggle" for the party, but it would "re-engage" with voters over the summer months.

"When unionism's back is against the wall, history has proven that we will come out fighting."

He said he will be a "builder for unionism, restoring, re-energising, not grandstanding or issuing threats or warnings".

"Our institutions are not a bargaining chip in our campaign to get rid of the protocol.

"We will consistently roll back the objectional provisions of the protocol, as we have been doing.

"That involves arguing our case forcefully and with conviction. It involves making Brussels and Dublin aware that the protocol is intolerable and unworkable.

"Legal challenges are one correct tactic, but the guaranteed way of ridding ourselves of the divisive protocol is through the Assembly."

Mr Poots paid tribute to Ms Foster's leadership, acknowledging that "the last few weeks has been difficult for her".

He added that "Arlene is and will be regarded as one of the most foremost women and unionists in British politics".

However, Paul Bell, a DUP member from Ms Foster's Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency, dramatically resigned from the party after Mr Poots' ratification.

He hit out at those who ousted the First Minister, claiming: "The votes that are going to be shed by the DUP is not in their hundreds, it's in their thousands. It's in their tens of thousands."