Political news

Arlene Foster will be 'greatest political survivor in the history of UK politics' if she survives leadership contest

DUP leader Arlene Foster and deputy leader Nigel Dodds in Westminster, London, following a meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May and Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley to discuss the powersharing impasse Wednesday September 12, 2018. By Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire.

Former DUP special adviser Timothy Cairns said Arlene Foster will be the “greatest political survivor in the history of UK politics” if she sees through a leadership contest.

He told the BBC Radio Four Today programme there “has to be” a contest within the next 10 days.

He said: “I think if she sees this one through she’ll be the greatest political survivor in the history of UK politics.

“I don’t see how she sees this through. I think we’re now at 22 MLAs, we’re now at four MPs, who’ve signed this letter to the party chairman asking that a leadership election takes place.”

He added: “I think whatever happens, whether she tries to cling on, whether she resigns, there has to be a leadership contest sometime within the next seven to 10 days.”

A letter circulated yesterday urged MPs and MLAs to record their dissatisfaction with Mrs Foster's leadership, which has come under increased pressure in recent days.

It is understood the letter, which was reported to have been signed by up to three-quarters of MLAs, also called for the resignation of deputy leader Nigel Dodds, who lost his North Belfast seat in the 2019 Westminster election.

In an acknowledgement that a heave against its leader was underway, a DUP statement last night said the party "conducts its business in accordance with its constitution and rules".

Read More: Prospect of first leadership contest in DUP's history as Arlene Foster faces no confidence vote

It said officers would "oversee the conduct and organisation of its internal democratic electoral processes".

"Whilst understanding that there will be from time-to-time public interest in party processes, these issues, in the first instance, are matters for members of the party and we are not able to make any further comment at this time," the statement said.

If a leadership contest does take place, only a small pool of MPs, MLAs and peers will be entitled to vote.

As speculation about Mrs Foster's future was intensifying yesterday, former health minister Jim Wells suggested her leadership of the DUP was still secure because nobody wants the party’s top job.

The South Down MLA, who had the party whip withdrawn three years ago after a fall-out with the DUP leadership, said the “cupboard is bare” when it comes to a prospective replacement for the beleaguered Mrs Foster.

Jim Wells

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