Donaldson officially ratified as new leader of the DUP

Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has been officially ratified as leader of the DUP following a meeting of the party’s ruling executive in Belfast.

The party’s 130-strong executive met at the La Mon Hotel to approve the appointment of the new leader.

Sir Jeffrey, the party’s 58-year-old Westminster leader, was the only candidate to put his name forward for the DUP leadership after the dramatic resignation of Edwin Poots earlier this month.

Speaking after the meeting, Sir Jeffrey said that the ratification had been unanimous.

He said: “There are many challenges ahead but I am confident now that the DUP will face those challenges together.

“I am confident that the party will now build towards the Assembly elections and I intend to work to ensure that once again the Democratic Unionist Party prevails in the election.”

At the weekend, the MP secured the majority backing of the DUP’s electoral college of party MPs and MLAs, receiving support from 32 of the college’s 36 members.

Internal divisions within the DUP have been laid bare after successive revolts deposed former leader Arlene Foster and her successor, Mr Poots.

Mr Poots’ demise came only weeks after he narrowly defeated Sir Jeffrey in the leadership contest to succeed Mrs Foster.

Mr Poots’ resignation came after he pressed ahead with reconstituting Stormont’s powersharing Executive alongside Sinn Fein, 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 Fein a key concession on Irish language laws was behind the internal opposition to Mr Poots’ decision to nominate a first minister to lead the administration alongside the republican party.

Sir Jeffrey has made clear his intent to return from Westminster to assume the First Minister’s job at Stormont.

However, the timeline for that move remains unclear. He would have to trigger a parliamentary by-election 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.

Sir Jeffrey is due to make his first keynote speech as party leader on Thursday.