Edwin Poots officially ratified as new party leader in first leadership contest in DUP history

Edwin Poots has been elected as the new DUP leader, beating Sir Jeffrey Donaldson by two votes in the party’s first ever leadership contest

Edwin Poots has been officially ratified as the new leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, having been elected as the new leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) earlier in May.

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

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Edwin Poots IN 2017 (Photo: PAUL FAITH/AFP via Getty Images)

Voting closed in the first leadership contest in the DUP’s history at 4pm on 14 May, with the result being declared less than an hour later.

The 36 members of the party’s electoral college, made up of its MPs and Stormont Assembly members, were eligible to vote in the race.

Poots was formally ratified in a meeting a Belfast hotel on Thursday (27 May) evening; speaking at the event, Poots said: “It’s a bit unreal to be perfectly honest.”

In a speech following his ratification, he vowed to revive unionism and scrap the Northern Ireland protocol.

DUP Leader Designate Edwin Poots inside DUP Headquarters in Belfast after he was elected as the new leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (Photo: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire)

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Why has his election been controversial?

Poots had been forced to respond to reports that his former rival for the party leadership, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, claims his team were intimidated by a loyalist paramilitary group.

“If that’s the case then Jeffrey should report that to police,” Poots said. “If anyone was intimidated, that should be reported to police.

Paul Bell, a DUP member from Arlene Foster’s Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency, dramatically resigned from the party after Poots’ ratification.

He hit out at those who ousted the First Minister, and warned the party stands to lose thousands of votes at the next election.

He said: “The problem was with those number of MLAs and MPs that decided to go behind our back, to sign letters of confidence, not even give her the chance to see the letter.

“That is where the problem is. It’s not the process of electing a new leader. It’s the fact that we’ve got 28 elected members in the Assembly and Westminster who would actually create a coup and publicly assassinate our leader.

“This is going to be a real problem for the DUP. 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."

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster can step aside at a time of her choosing, her successor as DUP leader has said, speaking after Foster indicated that if he names his ministerial team next Tuesday as expected, she will step down immediately.

She had previously said she would remain as First Minister until the end of June. She left her role as party leader on 28 May.

Poots is set to be the first DUP leader not to take the position of First Minister. He has said he will nominate a colleague in order to allow himself to focus on leading the party.

What has Poots promised?

Reacting to his election earlier in May, Poots, who recently underwent cancer surgery, said: “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. However, things can change quite radically.”

He added: “I’m looking forward to a positive relationship right across Northern Ireland with my party colleagues and indeed with people from other parties.

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.

“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.”

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.

Why was there a vote?

Ahead of the vote politicians made final pitches for support in a virtual hustings event, but it was Lagan Valley MLA Poots who won the contest, besting Sir Jeffrey by a razor-thin 19 votes to 17.

Foster was ousted after an internal heave by party colleagues unhappy with her leadership and stepped down from that role on 28 May, and as Stormont First Minister at the end of June.

Poots will be leader designate until Foster formally stands down.

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

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