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Sir Jeffrey Donaldson endorsed to lead DUP after majority vote


Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has been formally endorsed as the new leader of the Democratic Unionist party (DUP), vowing to “right the wrong” of the Northern Ireland protocol.

The Lagan Valley MP was the only person to put their name forward after successive revolts among party members deposed both Edwin Poots, who lasted 21 days in post, and his predecessor, Arlene Foster.

Donaldson received 32 votes of the party’s 36-strong electoral college as it met at a County Antrim hotel. Realistically, his ascension had been assured for several days, with the party’s chairman having announced last Tuesday that only formalities remained.

The DUP’s leader designate reiterated that his principal target during his time at the head of the party would be the Northern Ireland protocol.

“Northern Ireland is given the right under the Act of Union to trade freely with the rest of our own country and all that we ask is for that right to be restored, that we can trade freely with the rest of the United Kingdom and continue to trade with our neighbours. And there must be a solution to that. We need to find that solution.”

Many in the DUP, who were supporters of Brexit, have been angered by the way the process has turned out. The protocol ensures no checks at the border with the Republic of Ireland, which many saw as vital to maintaining stability in the region. But critics also say it has effectively created a new border in the Irish Sea, estranging Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

The gathering to confirm Donaldson’s position came after a chaotic two months for Northern Ireland’s largest party. Poots’ political demise came only weeks after he narrowly defeated Donaldson in the leadership contest to succeed Foster. Poots did not attend the meeting on Saturday morning.

His resignation came after he pressed ahead with reconstituting Stormont’s power-sharing executive alongside Sinn Féin, despite a significant majority of his MPs and MLAs being vociferously opposed to the move.

Party anger at a UK government pledge to grant Sinn Féin a key concession on Irish language laws was behind the internal opposition to Poots’ decision to nominate a first minister to lead the administration alongside the republican party.

When asked if he would revisit the issue, Donaldson said: “I am very clear that if the government proceeds to concede to Sinn Féin demands and goes over the head of the assembly on these issues and, at the same time, fails to address unionist concerns on the protocol, that is not a sustainable position – to use the words of the government – that is not a tenable position.”

Having received the majority endorsement of the electoral college, which is made up of 28 MLAs and eight MPs, Donaldson has become leader designate. He will become the official party leader next week when the DUP’s ruling executive meets to ratify his appointment.

A question mark now hangs over the future of the first minister, Paul Givan, seen as a protege of Poots.

Donaldson has made clear his intent to return from Westminster to assume the first minister’s job. However, the timeline for that move remains unclear.

He would have to trigger a parliamentary byelection in Lagan Valley in order to re-enter the assembly, and it is unclear whether he would want to prompt such a contest in the near future, given the DUP’s recent poor poll ratings.



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