Poots denies he orchestrated move to depose Foster as DUP leader

Edwin Poots was elected party leader last month but was forced to resign within weeks following an internal revolt.

Edwin Poots
Edwin Poots

Edwin Poots has denied that he orchestrated a move to depose Arlene Foster as DUP leader and said he only agreed to put his name forward to replace her after being approached by colleagues.

Mr Poots was elected DUP leader last month but was forced to resign within weeks following an internal party revolt over his decision to go ahead with the nomination of Paul Givan as Stormont First Minister after a deal was struck between Sinn Fein and the UK Government over the progression of Irish language legislation.

Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who was narrowly defeated by Mr Poots in the previous leadership contest, has put his name forward to become the DUP’s next leader.

Nominations for the post will close on Tuesday and no other candidates are expected to enter the race.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Poots referred to the party move against Mrs Foster, which resulted in the majority of party MLAs signing a letter of no confidence in her leadership.

Mr Poots rejected the suggestion he had orchestrated the plot against Mrs Foster.

He said: “That is just not factual in terms of the Arlene Foster issue. I did sign the paper but that was a collective of individuals.

“There was 85% of the Assembly group, so that wasn’t something that was motivated by any individual.

“I did not choose to be leader or stand for leadership until people approached me thereafter, and there were particular reasons why they wanted me to do it.”

Mr Poots said he would support Sir Jeffrey as leader and called for an end to infighting within the DUP.

He said: “If Jeffrey is the only candidate, yes, I will support him.

“It will be a significant challenge for him. My focus is not on infighting. I may have had a bruising experience personally but I would like to think I am a better man than to continue with some sort of infighting because I think there is a bigger prize out there.”

DUP leadership
Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has submitted his name to become the next leader of the DUP (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Poots also said he has received a personal assurance from the UK Government that significant changes will be made to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The UK Government and the EU are locked in a dispute over the implementation of the Protocol, the part of the Brexit divorce deal aimed at avoiding a hard border with Ireland.

Unionists are opposed to the Protocol and have repeatedly called for it to be scrapped.

Mr Poots said he proceeded with the appointment of Mr Givan as First Minister last week because he believed he could oppose the Protocol more effectively with a functioning Assembly.

He said: “My focus is on the Northern Ireland Protocol because that is what makes a constitutional difference to Northern Ireland.

“Yes, I have received assurances that there will be changes to the Protocol and that that will be very significant, that the UK Government are not going to tolerate how things are and how the EU have conducted themselves since the Protocol.”

He added: “We are looking to these changes happening in July, most likely early July.

“We believe that there is a significant victory to be won on the Protocol. I will hand over at the end of June (to the new DUP leader) and hopefully most of the work will actually be achieved by that stage, and we can make those gains.”

British Irish Council summit
Former DUP leader and First Minister Arlene Foster (Liam McBurney/PA)

He added: “We have been promised there will be a significant win on the Protocol, that is what the Secretary of State (Brandon Lewis) is indicating at this stage.”

Mr Poots referred to his decision to go ahead with the nomination of Mr Givan as First Minister last week while an internal DUP meeting was still taking place, at which the majority opposed the move.

He said: “There were a considerable number of soundings taken before that meeting. I had adhered to party policy which was that we were up for the full implementation of NDNA (New Decade, New Approach).

“Having ministers in place has enabled us to make those arguments about the Protocol, virtually on a daily basis with UK ministers, who have now gathered an understanding of the Protocol which wouldn’t have existed had we been outside of the Assembly.

“The people who are saying pull the Assembly down and that will ensure that we can win on the Protocol, that has demonstrated failure in the past, where I can see we are making actual progress.”

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