Christian creationist Edwin Poots is set to stand down as DUP leader following an internal revolt against him – just three weeks after being elected party chief.
A meeting of DUP party officers got under way at party headquarters in Belfast today, with the recently appointed leader facing a major heave amid speculation he could potentially face a vote of no-confidence.
The DUP appears to be in disarray after a majority of its elected representatives turned on Mr Poots after he reached an agreement with Sinn Fein on Irish language legislation to prevent Stormont from collapsing.
In a statement following the meeting, Mr Poots said: ‘I have asked the party chairman to commence an electoral process within the party to allow for a new leader of the Democratic Unionist Party to be elected.
‘The party has asked me to remain in post until my successor is elected.
‘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.’
It means that Mr Poots becomes the shortest serving leader in DUP history. He was voted in as Arlene Foster’s successor on May 14, following a revolt against the former First Minister by supporters of Mr Poots.
DUP leader Edwin Poots leaves a party meeting in Belfast tonight before announcing he would stand down from the role following an internal party revolt against him
Edwin Poots, leader of the DUP, leaves the party headquarters in Belfast on June 17, 2021
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The DUP, which is rooted in the fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church, opposed Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace accord. It later became reconciled to it and has shared power with the Irish Republican Army-linked Sinn Fein.
The British government retains an array of powers affecting Northern Ireland, but the Belfast assembly can make laws in areas including agriculture, education and health.
The power-sharing relationship has often been strained, and Britain’s economic split from the European Union at the end of 2020 has further shaken the political balance in Northern Ireland.
Post-Brexit trade rules have imposed customs and border checks on some goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, angering Northern Ireland’s British unionists who say the new checks amount to a border in the Irish Sea and weaken ties with the rest of the UK.
Tensions over the new rules contributed to a week of street violence in Northern Irish cities in April that saw youths pelt police with bricks, fireworks and gasoline bombs.
He was formally ratified as leader on May 27, meaning he officially served just 21 days in the role.
His planned departure follows a dramatic 24 hours in Northern Irish politics.
A sizeable majority of MLAs and MPs voted against his decision to reconstitute the powersharing Executive with Sinn Fein in a bruising internal meeting just minutes before the process for nominating Stormont’s leaders began in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Sinn Fein had threatened not to fill the post of deputy because of a feud about protections for the Irish language. That would have mothballed the administration – under the power-sharing arrangements set up as part of Northern Ireland’s peace accord, a government can’t be formed unless both roles are filled.
The language issue cuts to the heart of tensions between Northern Ireland’s mostly Catholic nationalists, who see themselves as Irish, and Protestants, who largely identify as British.
The Northern Ireland Assembly, in which the DUP is the largest party, has failed to pass a law ensuring protections for the Irish and Ulster Scots languages, despite the power-sharing parties agreeing last year to do so.
But after crisis talks with the two parties, the British government said early Thursday it would step in and pass the legislation in the UK Parliament if the Belfast assembly did not do it by September.
Sinn Fein welcomed the move, with party leader Mary Lou McDonald saying it had broken the ‘logjam of DUP obstructionism.’ Mr Poots accused Sinn Fein of creating instability, but agreed to nominate a first minister.
That provoked fury from many DUP colleagues.
Members were furious that Mr Poots pressed ahead with nominating his Lagan Valley constituency colleague Paul Givan as First Minister, after Sinn Fein secured a key concession from the UK Government to legislate for Irish language laws at Westminster.
A post-midnight announcement by the Government, committing to pass the stalled laws at Westminster in the autumn if they were not moved at the Stormont Assembly in the interim, was enough to convince Sinn Fein to drop its threat not to nominate a deputy First Minister as joint head of the devolved Executive.
The development came after a night of intensive talks involving Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis and DUP and Sinn Fein delegations in Belfast.
Many DUP politicians had warned against a Government intervention on such a sensitive devolved issue and they were enraged that Mr Poots was still prepared to enter a new coalition on that basis.
A meeting of DUP party officers got under way at party headquarters in Belfast, amid speculation Mr Poots could potentially face a vote of no confidence.
DUP leader Edwin Poots during the nomination of Paul Givan as First Minister, in the Stormont Assembly in Parliament Buildings in Belfast
Mr Poots left the meeting after 8pm, saying only ‘how are you’ to gathered media before being driven off in a waiting car.
He declined to respond to media questions about his leadership and whether he faced a motion of no confidence during the meeting.
The remaining DUP party officers left the meeting at their headquarters at 8.50pm, all departing together.
All of them, including senior party figures such as Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Diane Dodds, Sammy Wilson and deputy leader Paul Bradley, refused to speak to the media as they left.
A statement confirming Mr Poots’ intention to stand down was issued shortly after.
The Irish language legislation is one of several outstanding elements of the New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) deal that resurrected powersharing in Northern Ireland after a three-year impasse.
Since becoming the new DUP leader, Mr Poots has repeatedly said he is committed to implementing all of the NDNA agreement.
Sinn Fein has however demanded specific and immediate action on the Irish language aspect, insisting the legislation must be tabled at Stormont ahead of the summer recess if it is to become law before the end of the current Assembly mandate next spring.
The cultural elements of the NDNA, which include protections for Irish and Ulster Scots speakers, would be delivered in the form of amendments to the 1998 Northern Ireland Act.
With the law changes having already been drafted as part of the NDNA deal, the draft legislation can commence its journey through the Assembly once the Executive gives it the green light.
Young earth creationist and LGBT critic who represents DUP’s traditional wing
Mr Poorts is a ‘young earth creationist’ who rejects the theory of evolution and believes the world was made by God around 4,000 BC
Edwin Poots is a creationist and farmer seen as a political hardliner – who was involved in ousting ex-First Minister Arlene Foster.
The 55-year-old father-of-four’s on LGBT rights have led to criticism – he has opposed gay men and women adopting children or giving blood in the past.
He supported Christian bakers who in 2015 were found guilty of discrimination after refusing to make a cake for gay rights activists.
But it is another part of his evangelical Christian beliefs that attract the most attention. He is a ‘young earth creationist’ who rejects the theory of evolution and believes the world was made by God around 4,000 BC.
He has also criticised the theory of evolution and outspoken humanist scientist Richard Dawkins.