Edwin Poots has resigned as leader of the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) after colleagues rebelled over a deal to revive the Northern Ireland assembly, triggering a new political crisis in the region.
Poots quit on Thursday night after just 21 days in the job, the latest drama in a leadership meltdown in Northern Ireland’s biggest party that could sink the power-sharing assembly at Stormont.
The 55-year-old left an emergency meeting at the party’s Belfast headquarters without addressing waiting media and later released a statement saying he had asked the party chairman to start an electoral process for a new leader.
“The party has asked me to remain in post until my successor is elected,” said the statement. “This has been a difficult period for the party and the country and I have conveyed to the chairman my determination to do everything I can to ensure both Unionism and Northern Ireland is able to move forward to a stronger place.”
The humiliating fall throws into doubt a deal on Irish language legislation announced earlier on Thursday. The deal was designed to defuse a stalemate with Sinn Féin and allowed Poots’s protege, Paul Givan, 39, to become Northern Ireland’s youngest ever leader on Thursday.
Sinn Féin had demanded a commitment on Irish language legislation as the price of rebooting Stormont after Arlene Foster stepped down as first minister on Monday. She had already resigned as DUP leader following a party revolt in April fuelled by anger at the Northern Ireland protocol.
With the DUP riven by in-fighting and blame over the Irish Sea border, Poots wished to resolve the stalemate at Stormont and avert an early election. However, most of the party’s assembly members and peers opposed the language deal in a stormy meeting on Thursday morning.
Poots ignored the revolt and nominated Givan, allowing the executive and assembly to resume business, but the party summoned Poots to a meeting at party HQ later on Thursday.