Northern Ireland: Edwin Poots elected DUP leader to succeed Arlene Foster

Mr Poots vowed to be the ‘authentic voice’ of unionism as he was elected as the new leader the DUP (Picture: PA)

Northern Ireland agriculture minister Edwin Poots has been elected as the new leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.

Mr Poots will replace Arlene Foster, who announced her resignation last month and steps down at the end of June.

The Lagan Valley MLA defeated the DUP’s Westminster leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson by 19 votes to 17 in the poll carried out within the party’s 36-strong electoral college.

It was the first contested leadership vote in the party’s 50-year history. Mr Poots said he would break with DUP tradition and not appoint himself Stormont first minister if elected party leader.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson congratulated Mr Poots in a tweet.

He said: ‘People across the UK are best served when we work together, & I look forward to working with him, @BrandonLewis & the wider Executive as we build back stronger for the people of Northern Ireland.’

Irish premier Micheal Martin also extended his congratulations, and said his door is always open.

In his acceptance speech, Mr Poots, who has held four ministerial portfolios at Stormont in a long political career, pledged that the DUP would be the ‘authentic voice’ for unionism under his leadership.

Speaking at party headquarters in east Belfast, he said: ‘It is an immense honour and pleasure to stand here today in this position, it is not a position that I expected to be in some weeks ago.

‘However, things can change quite radically.’

Edwin Poots gives the thumbs up to the media outside Stormont (Picture: AP)

Mr Poots added: ‘I’m looking forward to a positive relationship right across Northern Ireland with my party colleagues and indeed with people from other parties.

‘I think the opportunities for Northern Ireland are great, the opportunities for us to make Northern Ireland a great place after this 100 years has passed and we move into a new 100 years.’

Mr Poots praised the ‘resilience’ of Northern Ireland’s people through many difficult decades, adding: ‘It’s that resilience that we are going to go forward (with) and make Northern Ireland a good place.

‘My father was a founder member of the DUP some 50 years ago, and I joined after the death of the Reverend Robert Bradford MP in 1981 and throughout all of that period this party has been the authentic voice of unionism and will continue to be the authentic voice of unionism under my leadership.’

Arlene Foster is stepping down from Northern Ireland politics (Picture: PA)

Mrs Foster was ousted after an internal heave by party colleagues unhappy with her leadership and will step down from that role on May 28, and as Stormont First Minister at the end of June.

Mr Poots will be leader designate until Mrs Foster formally stands down.

His election will now go to the party executive for ratification.

The DUP politicians eligible to vote comprised the party’s eight MPs and 28 Assembly members. The voting by way of secret ballot took place at the party headquarters through Friday afternoon.

North Belfast MLA Paula Bradley was also elected the party’s new deputy leader on Friday.

She defeated East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell by 18 votes to 16.

Mr Poots pledged that the DUP would be the ‘authentic voice’ for unionism under his leadership (Picture: PA)

In his speech, Mr Poots said he wanted to prioritise job creation and improving educational attainment in disadvantaged areas.

He said he wanted to tackle the problems within the region’s health service and address the spiralling treatment waiting lists.

Mr Poots also urged fellow unionists to work with him to oppose Brexit’s contentious Northern Ireland Protocol, which has placed new economic barriers between the region and the rest of the UK.

He said: ‘There’s much to do, there’s much to be done and I stand here today very proud to be taking up the mantle as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and that brings with it responsibility to all of unionism.

‘I want to say this very clearly, I will be a leader in unionism who’ll be reaching out to other leaders in unionism.

‘I want to see unionism working together.

‘The Northern Ireland Protocol is proving to be a massive challenge for us and if we are to fight this to ensure that everybody in Northern Ireland is not worse off as a consequence of the protocol, then it’s for us to do that together.

‘And I want to ensure that that is the case, that we don’t have the unionist bickering that we’ve had in the past, and I will encourage all unionists to work with me to deliver an end which ensures we set the foundations in this (year) 2021 for another 100 years of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.’

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