New DUP leader Edwin Poots denies party is divided

New DUP leader Edwin Poots has denied his party is divided.

The Stormont Agriculture Minister was ratified by his party following a stormy meeting at a Belfast hotel on Thursday night.

Outgoing leader Arlene Foster and several senior figures including Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Gavin Robinson and Diane Dodds left the building before Mr Poots rose to give his speech.

Paul Bell, a DUP member of 20 years from Mrs Foster’s Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency, dramatically resigned from the party over its treatment of her.

Democratic Unionist Party meets to ratify new leader
DUP member Paul Bell announces his resignation (Brian Lawless/PA)

He hit out at those who ousted Mrs Foster, and warned the party stands to lose thousands of votes at the next election.

“This is going to be a real problem for the DUP. The votes that are going to be shed by the DUP is not in their hundreds, it’s in their thousands. It’s in their tens of thousands,” he said.

“We cannot go round the doors, the people in Fermanagh and South Tyrone will vote for anyone but the DUP. That is because, not of an election, that is because of what took place before the election.”

Mr Poots later addressed the media alongside the newly ratified deputy leader Paula Bradley, with supporters gathered behind him.

He described the meeting as “good” and said it is a “great privilege” to now lead the party that his father had helped form 50 years ago.

Mr Poots said there had been a debate and a contest, and that the contest “had been decided”.

Democratic Unionist Party meet to ratify new leader
Edwin Poots speaks to the media, after leaving the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Belfast on the evening he was ratified as the new DUP leader (Liam McBurney/PA)

“We will move forward in a united way,” he said.

“The DUP is not a divided party, the DUP has went through an electoral contest, the first in 50 years, and everybody that goes through an electoral contest will have some passion, and passion is good in politics.

“I like to see people having passion, sometimes even when they are people contesting with me. I like to see people who are passionate in their arguments.”

Mr Poots added that he hoped to be able to speak to Mr Bell “in the near future”.

“Sometimes people don’t like the outcome and they do things in the heat of the moment, I have a lot of respect for the gentleman,” he said.

Mr Poots narrowly defeated Sir Jeffrey Donaldson earlier this month in the party’s first leadership contest.

In a speech following his ratification, he vowed to revive unionism and scrap the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“We will consistently roll back the objectional provisions of the Protocol, as we have been doing,” he said.

“That involves arguing our case forcefully and with conviction. It involves making Brussels and Dublin aware that the Protocol is intolerable and unworkable.

“Legal challenges are one correct tactic, but the guaranteed way of ridding ourselves of the divisive Protocol is through the Assembly.”

He added: “We will employ political tactics to continue the pressure, and let Dublin see that isn’t some hiccup, but rather something that has the worrying capacity to destabilise relationships that they have gained most from.”

Mr Poots said his challenge was to encourage supporters of unionism to get out and vote.

He also called for a “united unionist coalition” ahead of the next Assembly elections.

Mr Poots said the only way of preventing a border poll and getting rid of the Protocol was by securing a Unionist majority at the next election.

In his speech, Mr Poots paid tribute to Ms Foster’s leadership of the party.

He said: “Arlene is and will be regarded as one of the most foremost women and unionists in British politics.

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“Irrespective of our differences in any issues that have brought us here this evening, she is admired by us all.”

Mrs Foster announced her resignation as First Minister and DUP leader last month following an internal revolt against her leadership.

She said she would step down as DUP leader on Friday and as First Minister at the end of June.

Earlier this week, Mrs Foster said she still had not seen the reported letter of no confidence in her leadership.

DUP MP Ian Paisley said he understands the party chairman Lord Morrow has read the letter to her and told her the names who signed it.

“The process that the party has always adopted is that those letters are not shared with other people who have gone,” he said.

“My father never ever saw the requisition order that was signed against him. He accepted it because he accepted the good grace and standing of our party chairman.”

Mr Poots has signalled that he will become the first DUP leader not to take the First Minister position at Stormont, and will instead nominate a colleague in order to focus on the job of leading the party.

MLAs Mervyn Storey and Paul Givan are reportedly being considered for the post.