Sir Jeffrey Donaldson will succeed Edwin Poots as DUP leader this afternoon. He was the only candidate to put himself forward to become the DUP leader as nominations for the position of the leadership, closed at noon on Tuesday.
According to BBC News, ‘Sir Jeffrey’s name will go forward to the party’s electoral college, which is expected to meet on Saturday. Candidates for the position had to submit their names to the party chairman, Lord Morrow, backed by a proposer and a seconder.
Following the meeting of the electoral college he will have to be ratified as party leader at a meeting of the DUP executive, which could take place next week. He would become the party's fifth leader in its 50-year history’.
‘In a statement issued after nominations closed, Sir Jeffrey said he had the ‘vision to unite Northern Ireland and heal the divisions of the past. The task ahead is great,’ he continued. "I do not underestimate the challenge, but I know the overwhelming majority of people who live here want Northern Ireland to keep moving forward."
Lord Morrow said the past few weeks had been "difficult for the party and mistakes have been made". "Now is the time to move forward in a spirit of humility and mindful that our focus must be on serving the people whom we represent," the peer added.
"I look forward to the challenges of rebuilding and reconnecting in the time ahead." Sir Jeffrey Donaldson ran in the previous leadership contest against Edwin Poots and was defeated last month by Edwin Poots at the time. He said: "If elected, I will ensure that the government doesn't just listen but recognises the need to take decisive action to deal quickly with the protocol," he said on Monday.
He has also insisted he is the right person to lead the party to victory at the next assembly election’. In terms of his political background, BBC News said that ‘Sir Jeffrey, born in Kilkeel, County Down, became politically active as a constituency agent for the South Down MP Enoch Powell in the mid-1980s before working as a personal assistant to the former Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader James Molyneaux.
After James Molyneaux retired as an MP in 1997, Sir Jeffrey was voted as his successor as MP for Lagan Valley, retaining the seat through six subsequent elections. He is a member of the Orange Order and also served as a corporal in the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) during the Troubles.
In 2003, following long-standing opposition to the Good Friday Agreement and the leadership of David Trimble, he announced he would leave the UUP, later joining the DUP, along with Arlene Foster and Norah Beare.
He was appointed to the Privy Council, a body which advises the monarchy, in 2007 and stood down as an MLA for Lagan Valley in 2010. He was awarded a knighthood in 2016 for political service’.
Meanwhile, Edwin Poots said, in an interview with Sky News on Monday, that: “There was a section in the party that struggled to accept that I won the election, that I won it democratically, I won it fairly. "That's how things are now, that I've been forced into a resignation."
Asked if he would turn the clock back six weeks to before the leadership battle began if he could, he replied: "Yes, I would and perhaps I would wish that some others would turn the clock back six weeks as well and done things a bit differently.
"In terms of the support I received, it didn't come from people that it should have and that's just a reality that everybody knows”. Mr Poots said he had not yet been asked to support anyone for the leadership and would "hold off" at this stage.
It is unsurprising that Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is to become the next DUP leader. Having been defeated in a leadership contest against Edwin Poots, Donaldson was the only candidate for the leadership of the party and it did not seem that anyone, apart from Sir Donaldson was likely to put their name forward for the leadership position.
It is likely that he will be ratified as the DUP’s fifth leader in its 50-year party history. It is worth noting that before Edwin Poots’ election as DUP leader, the DUP only had three leaders in its political history. But, in as many weeks, Donaldson will become the DUP’s fifth ever leader.
If he is ratified as DUP leader on Saturday, he will face many challenges to turn around the electoral prospects of the DUP, as it has struggled in recent months and has shed support to parties such as the TUV. He will also have to unite the party, as it currently faces internal divisions, recently, over the issue of the passing of Irish language laws.
It remains to be seen whether Sir Donaldson chooses to become First Minister of Northern Ireland, or chooses to appoint someone else, once Paul Givan steps down as First Minister, which became ever more likely in recent days, as Edwin Poots stepped down as DUP leader.
As outlined by Sir Donaldson, he will have to deal with the issue of the Northern Ireland Protocol. He will also have to work with Sinn Féin, in a power-sharing executive, until at least May 2022, if this power-sharing executive returns to office.
At that point, Assembly elections are due to take place and will be the first electoral challenge for Sir Jeffrey Donaldson as DUP leader. It will be an intriguing few months to follow in Northern Irish politics.