Jeffrey Donaldson confirms he is to run for leadership of DUP

Lagan Valley MP says Northern Ireland protocol will be his primary focus if elected

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson  previously narrowly lost out to Edwin Poots in his bid for the leadership, amid a public rift in the party. Photograph:  Brian Lawless/PA Wire

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson previously narrowly lost out to Edwin Poots in his bid for the leadership, amid a public rift in the party. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Jeffrey Donaldson has confirmed he will run as a candidate for the new leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.

The Lagan Valley MP said the Northern Ireland protocol would be his primary focus if elected to succeed Edwin Poots who resigned last week after just 21 days in the role.

Mr Donaldson previously narrowly lost out to Mr Poots in his bid for the leadership, amid a public rift in the party.

“It is with optimism for the future and recognition of the challenges facing Northern Ireland that today, I put my name forward for the leadership of the Democratic Unionist Party,” Mr Donaldson said.

”Now, more than ever, we need to unite in the face of the threats posed to Northern Ireland by the protocol.

”Make no mistake, this is the number one issue facing our country, our people and our place within the United Kingdom.

“If elected, I will ensure that the Government doesn’t just listen, but recognises the need to take decisive action to deal quickly with the protocol.

“A failure to act will undoubtedly have consequences for the stability of our political institutions and the prosperity of our economy.”

On Monday, Mr Poots suggested the protocol be put to a referendum.

The post-Brexit arrangements are undemocratic and change the constitutional position of the North, and if they can’t be scrapped then a vote is needed on the change, he said.

Speaking in the Stormont Assembly, the North’s agriculture minister said the fundamental issues around the protocol were whether it was democratic and whether it changed the region’s constitutional status within the UK.

“And it does change the constitution,” he said. “Therefore, if you want to change the constitution you should ask the people.”

Tuesday deadline

Nominations for the DUP leadership remain open until noon on Tuesday. Mr Donaldson is the only candidate to announce his bid so far.

There was speculation that East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson may decide to run against him. Mr Wilson did not respond to requests for comment.

If no-one else enters the race, Mr Donaldson would be leader-elect from Tuesday afternoon, and formally elected on Saturday.

After a very public split in the party over recent weeks over the perceived direction Mr Poots was taking it, Mr Donaldson said it was time “to unite as a party and take heed of the challenges that Northern Ireland faces.”

“We need to restore confidence and faith in our party and to work with other unionists of a like mind to broaden the appeal of unionism and secure the Union for the future.

“We need to deliver tangible results for the people who have put their faith in us and that also means building bridges across our divided communities and developing what a shared future means for everyone in Northern Ireland regardless of their background or belief.

“I believe that if I am elected leader, I can help the party deliver on these issues and put the Democratic Unionist Party on the path to victory at next year’s election.”

Byelection

During the last leadership campaign, Mr Donaldson said if he won he would quit as an MP in Westminster to return to the Assembly and take up the role of first minister.

The move would trigger a byelection in Lagan Valley, a seat held by Mr Donaldson since 1997. At the last general election in 2019, Alliance’s Sorcha Eastwood narrowed the DUP’s lead in the constituency to around 6,500 votes.

In a tweet over the weekend, Ms Eastwood said “Lagan Valley is changing; it is diverse and needs representation to match its diversity”, adding that “all we need to change politics for good in [Lagan Valley] is 6499 extra votes.”

Ulster Unionist Party deputy leader Robbie Butler, MLA for Lagan Valley, said he could not see any circumstances in which there would be a pact with the DUP to secure a unionist seat at Westminster.

“Change would definitely be good... and if a byelection comes then I hope to be in a place to make sure it is an Ulster Unionist seat,” he told Radio Ulster.

Northern Ireland’s new First Minister, Paul Givan, a close ally of Mr Poots who installed him against the wishes of the majority of DUP MPs and MLAs, has been told he will have to step down when a new party leader is elected.

Speaking on Monday, he said Mr Donaldson will have his full support if he takes over.

“Jeffrey Donaldson has been a very close personal friend of mine for many years, a constituency colleague; as we all know, we share an office together and Jeffrey is a formidable politician, one who has a lot to offer Northern Ireland,” he said.

“I have spoken to Jeffrey Donaldson over the weekend, I have encouraged him to put his name forward, if he does he will have my full support.”

Mr Givan would not comment on when he would leave the First Minister post.