It has emerged that Edwin Poots has won the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) leadership contest by defeating Sir Jeffrey Donaldson. According to BBC, ‘Edwin Poots has been elected as the new leader of the DUP. He defeated Sir Jeffrey Donaldson by 19 votes to 17 in Friday’s ballot. Mr. Poots is NI agriculture minister and has represented Lagan Valley in the NI Assembly since 199. Meanwhile Paula Bradley MLA has been elected as the party’s new deputy leader’. ‘She succeeds Lord Dodds after beating East Londonderry MP, Gregory Campbell in Friday’s vote.
Newly elected DUP deputy leader, Paula Bradley said that, ‘it will be a great honour to serve this great party. The North Belfast MLA says she will support Edwin Poots as leader ‘in any way I can’, but may also be a ‘critical friend’. This vote took place from 11am onwards, as the party MPs and MLAs voted on the next leader of the DUP. According to BBC, ‘only DUP members elected to the House of Commons or the Northern Ireland Assembly get to vote in a leadership election, according to party rules… There are 28 MLAs – including outgoing leader Arlene Foster – and eight MPs, who make up the electoral college.
In order to become party leader, the winning candidate must secure the support of at least 19 of the party’s MLAs and MPs… Each leadership candidate spoke to party members with a vote for 10 minutes on Friday morning, and each deputy leader contender spoke for five minutes’. The BBC elaborated further by saying that, ‘the newly elected DUP leader Edwin Poots says it is ‘an immense honour’ to be chosen for the role and makes reference to Northern Ireland’s centenary in his acceptance speech. I am looking forward to a positive relationship right across Northern Ireland and with my party colleagues and indeed with people from other parties,’ he said in his victory speech.
The opportunities for us to make Northern Ireland a great place after this hundred years has passed and we move into a new hundred years are immense’. Further, the BBC said that, the newly elected DUP leader, Edwin Poots, said that ‘the DUP will be the ‘authentic voice of unionism’ under his leadership. He thanks God for giving him ‘strength’ and his family for their support during his year in politics’. Meanwhile, Edwin Poots said that ‘he wants to see ‘unionism working together’, particularly to deal with the ‘challenges’ posed by the Brexit deal and the Northern Ireland Protocol. The newly elected DUP leader says the protocol is ‘a massive challenge for us’.
Edwin Poots’ defeated counterparty, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson congratulated his ‘friend and constituency colleague’ Edwin Poots on his victory in the DUP leadership race. The Lagan Valley MP says he respects that party representatives ‘have made their choice… What we sought to do was to offer the party a choice and I have no regrets about putting my name forward’, Sir Jeffrey said 'Now the party must consider what that means for our way forward, what it means for the union that we all cherish and what it means for Northern Ireland, this place is my home, a place that I love’.
Further, the BBC said that Gregory Campbell congratulated ‘Edwin Poots and Paula Bradley on their successes in the leadership votes. The defeated candidate for deputy leader says the party must ‘come together and present a vision and a view of the future’. Sinn Féin president, Mary Lou McDonald, ‘has wished Edwin Poots well following his election and called for a ‘unity of purpose and ambition’ facing the challenges ahead’.
In summary, it remains to be seen whether the victory of Edwin Poots in the leadership election is a turning point for the DUP and unionism in Northern Ireland as it seeks to turn around its recent difficulties in recent months, particularly with the Northern Ireland Protocol, as it has fallen behind Sinn Féin in recent Lucid Talks polls, and appears to have lost votes to the extreme-right-wing unionist party, Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) led by its sole MLA and prominent Brexiteer, Jim Allister.
This is mainly because of the weakness of the leadership of Arlene Foster in addressing unionist concerns with the Northern Ireland Protocol and her confused leadership in the signing up to the Northern Ireland Protocol and when it came into force, actively attempted to oppose this protocol, as the protocol was grossly unpopular with the unionist community.
This is a significant change from the first few years of Arlene Foster’s leadership of the DUP, as she was a popular figure in the party after being elected as DUP leader in 2015. However, this popularity has quickly faded, in recent months, due to her weak leadership on managing Northern Ireland’s transition, as part of the United Kingdom, of leaving the EU and dealing with the transition to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
In comparison to this, Jim Allister has mobilised behind opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol with the TUV, as Allister, himself, originally resigned from the DUP due to his refusal to serve in the Executive alongside Sinn Féin. For a long period of time, he has been a staunch opponent of working, in any way, with Sinn Féin in the Executive, and one cannot forget that the rise in the TUV in the Lucid Talk polls in recent months, surely had an influence on the decrease in popularity in Foster’s DUP leadership.
It appears that from Poots’ statement on becoming DUP leader, he wants to unite unionism and ensure that it works together for the best interests of Northern Ireland. It also remains to be seen whether the election of Poots as new DUP leader, has an impact on its position on remaining to serve in the current Executive alongside Sinn Féin or whether it decides to pull out of the Executive early to hold early elections.
Currently, Assembly elections in Northern Ireland are not due to be held until May 2022, but this could all change if Poots decides to pull the DUP out of the Executive. It will be intriguing to see the transition from Foster’s DUP leadership to the leadership of Poots, who will become the next First Minister of Northern Ireland. Whatever happens, Poots will have to be a leader and First Minister, that works with Sinn Féin in the Executive to ensure that a functioning Government continues to operate in Northern Ireland.