Edwin Poots officially ratified as new leader of Democratic Unionist Party

Edwin Poots has been officially ratified as the new leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.

The Stormont Agriculture Minister narrowly defeated Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson earlier this month in the party’s first contest for leader.

Mr Poots was formally ratified in a meeting a Belfast hotel on Thursday evening.

Speaking at the event, Mr Poots said: “It’s a bit unreal to be perfectly honest.”

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

He said: “I will be a builder for Unionism. Restoring, re-energising, not grandstanding or issuing threats or warnings.

Coronavirus – Mon May 24, 2021
First Minister Arlene Foster (Liam McBurney/PA)

“Our institutions are not a bargaining chip in our campaign to get rid of the protocol.

“We will consistently roll back the objectional provisions of the protocol, as we have been doing.

“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 reading our sales 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 said: “By far the biggest enemy is those unionists who do not care enough to come out and vote. We must be the Unionist party that inspires them to reengage and get out to vote.”

Mr Poots called for a “united unionist coalition” ahead of the next Assembly elections.

He 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 signs of growing divisions in the party, outgoing leader Arlene Foster left before Mr Poots took to the stand to make his inaugural speech as leader, as did other senior figures including Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Gavin Robinson, Diane Dodds and Gregory Campbell.

Paul Bell, a DUP member of 20 years from Ms Foster’s Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency, dramatically resigned from the party after Mr Poots’ ratification.

He hit out at those who ousted the First Minister, 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.”

Edwin Poots speaks to the media, after leaving the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Belfast on the evening he was ratified as the new DUP 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 (Brian Lawless/PA)

Asked about Mr Bell’s resignation, Mr Poots said: “Sometimes people don’t like the outcome and they do things in the heat of the moment.”

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

He said: “I want to take an opportunity also to pay tribute to my predecessor.

“I know that the last few weeks has been difficult for her, as they have been for all of us.

“But I can’t say honestly that no matter what background or place we come from, Arlene is and will be regarded as one of the most foremost women and unionists in British politics.

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

“She has made history, and her time in politics. I have no doubt she will go on to do even greater things. History will ultimately be kind to her in its final analysis. I wish her and her family well.”

It comes after the DUP Fermanagh and Tyrone Association released a statement expressing its “disgust” at the treatment of outgoing leader Mrs Foster.

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

Four weeks on, Mrs Foster this week said she has still not had sight of a letter reportedly signed by party colleagues asking her to step aside.

💬STATEMENT 💬Fermanagh and South Tyrone DUP Association met this week to voice their disgust at the manner in which our…

Posted by DUP Fermanagh and South Tyrone on Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Fermanagh and Tyrone DUP Association posted a statement on its Facebook page – shared by MP Gavin Robinson – which stated the treatment of Mrs Foster “was not done in our name” and pledged to “stand firm by her side”.

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

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.