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Analysis: Edwin Poots took wheel of DUP bus and headed straight for cliff edge

Ian Knox cartoon 18/6/21 

IN the few short weeks since he became DUP leader, Edwin Poots had never been in control.

Elected on a slim majority after a campaign that left recrimination in its wake, he took the wheel of the DUP bus and headed straight for a cliff edge.

He had been undone by failing to meet the very standards he himself set. He ousted Arlene Foster on the basis that she had become deaf to the concerns of the party’s elected representatives, more interested in listening to her own special advisers than taking on board her MLAs’ concerns, while the DUP Westminster contingent had become its own self-governing fiefdom, operating autonomously and outside of the internal disciplinary process, if such a thing even exists.

Much has been said about Mr Poots’ past pragmatism and his ability to adopt a more measured stance when required.

The optimistic reading of the new DUP leader was that there was nobody remaining to the right of him in the party and therefore he was perfectly positioned to manoeuvre it into uncomfortable places without fear of a being overthrown, like his predecessor.

Ian Knox cartoon 18/6/21 

His decision to nominate Paul Givan as first minister just hours after Secretary of State Brandon Lewis had acquiesced to Sinn Féin’s demands for Westminster to legislate on Irish language if Stormont stalled the process, fitted the ‘Poots the pragmatist’ narrative.

When a deal to restore the executive was agreed in the early hours of yesterday morning, we assumed the DUP leader had already secured party support for a move that would face strong criticism from anti-power-sharing unionists.

However, it would appear Mr Poots, the leader who during his campaign claimed the party was no longer democratic, had consulted with no-one bar Mr Givan and perhaps his chief lieutenant Ian Paisley.

It was possible he could have sold his plan – if there was one – but he appears to have made no effort. His method, as much as the substance of what he was asking the DUP to support, is what riled people.

Stung by the defeat in the internal vote earlier in the week on Stormont translation services, Mr Poots looked to have chosen to bypass his party and move unilaterally. 

Where this all leaves devolution is unclear. Sinn Féin especially will be happy that the DUP’s crisis has distracted attention from its Faustian pact with the British government.

How much Boris Johnson can be trusted to fulfil his government’s pledge on Irish language legislation is moot, as previous British government’s with apparently greater integrity have reneged on commitments.

For the DUP, this latest episode has been another self-inflicted setback for a party that is already struggling to command its historical levels of support among the unionist community.

In its current wounded state, it needs an election like it needs another divisive leadership contest, yet it may be destined to end up with both.

Read more: Stormont morning meeting that sealed Edwin Poots' fate

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