Arlene Foster: who is DUP leader and Northern Ireland first minister - and why has she resigned?

Members of the Democratic Unionist Party members signed a letter voicing no confidence in Foster’s leadership
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Arlene Foster said she will step down as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party on May 28 and as First Minister of Northern Ireland at the end of June.

It comes as multiple Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) sources told the Belfast News Letter that a clear majority of DUP Members of the Legislative Assembly - as well as at least half the party’s MPs and some of its peers - put their names to what is effectively a letter of no confidence in Mrs Foster.

It means her five-and-a-half year tenure as leader will end very soon.

Who is Arlene Foster?

Arlene Foster, 46, is the leader of the DUP, a lawyer by profession and a mum-of-three.

In 2015, Mrs Foster was appointed as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party - the largest in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

In January 2016, she was appointed as the First Minister of Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster answers questions on her leadership during a visit to the Hammer Youth Centre, in Belfast (PA).Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster answers questions on her leadership during a visit to the Hammer Youth Centre, in Belfast (PA).
Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster answers questions on her leadership during a visit to the Hammer Youth Centre, in Belfast (PA).

The DUP has ten MPs and is the fifth largest party in the House of Commons in the UK.

The party agreed to help the Tories stay in power following the 2017 General Election - as Theresa May’s Conservatives lost the majority of seats in parliament.

But unlike a fully fledged coalition, the DUP does not sit on the government benches and does not get any places in the Cabinet.

Why has the DUP signed a vote of no confidence against Arlene Foster?

Foster’s resignation comes as there is growing unease with DUP members about Mrs Foster and the wider party leadership in recent months.

The primary source of concern is the handling of the Brexit process. The DUP is facing anger from the wider loyalist and unionist community for the introduction of an Irish Sea border.

Critics have accused Mrs Foster of failing to use the party’s influence at Westminster – particularly during its confidence and supply deal with the Conservatives – to secure a Brexit deal that saw Northern Ireland leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the UK.

She has also been accused of not being vociferous enough in opposition to the contentious Northern Ireland Protocol, which governs the new Brexit trading barriers between NI and GB, ahead of its introduction at the start of 2021.

Poor recent polling numbers have exacerbated the discontent within the party faithful, who are mindful of next May’s looming Assembly election.

Mrs Foster’s decision to abstain in a vote on gay conversion therapy last week appears to have further agitated sections of the party’s fundamentalist grassroots.

Mrs Foster was asked whether her leadership was in question on a visit to a youth centre in Belfast on Tuesday afternoon.

“We’ll just deal with it and move on because I’ve bigger things to do, including getting us through this Covid pandemic, including listening to the concerns of working-class communities,” she said.

“These stories come up from time to time. This is no different.

“I haven’t received any letters from constituency associations so I’m not going to get into a running commentary on these issues, they come up from time to time. I think it’s important to note that there is the big job of work to do. We have a year left of this mandate.

“It’s important that we lift our eyes and continue the work of rolling out of the (Covid-19) restrictions, deal with the Northern Ireland Protocol.”

Additional reporting by PA.

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