Today’s big question

Why did the DUP turn on Arlene Foster?

Northern Ireland first minister resigns after revolt from party representatives

Arlene Foster has resigned as DUP leader and Northern Ireland first minister after three-quarters of her party’s Assembly members and half of its MPs signed a letter of no confidence in her.

She said “she would step down as DUP leader on 28 May and as first minister at the end of June”, reports the BBC.

Foster told Sky News that serving the people of Northern Ireland had been “the privilege of my life” and added: “The future of unionism and Northern Ireland will not be found in division. It will only be found in sharing this place we are privileged to call home.”

The Belfast News Letter reported this morning that as many as 23 of the DUP’s Northern Ireland Assembly members, as well as four of the party’s eight Westminster MPs, had put their names to a letter which signalled a lack of faith in their party leader. 

The letter has not been made public, but DUP sources told the paper the wording amounted to “very clearly” saying that “we have no faith in the leadership”. 

A source told The Belfast News Letter that unionism was “crying out for leadership” and that the party needed “clear direction” after a series of U-turns on key issues. 

There had been “mounting discontent” over Foster’s leadership amongst the party grassroots and the wider unionist community in recent months, reports The Irish Times

Much of the anger has been over Foster’s handling of the Northern Ireland protocol and the DUP’s part in creating the Irish Sea border

Foster “briefly endorsed the arrangements” in January, “only to row in behind outspoken MPs like Ian Paisley and Sammy Wilson who urged a campaign of resistance”, reports The Guardian

The DUP, and in particular Foster, have been “haunted” by the “rousing welcome” they gave Boris Johnson at their party conference in 2018, when the then foreign secretary promised to fight any attempt to impose a border in the Irish Sea, says the newspaper. “The DUP smoothed his subsequent path to Downing Street by rejecting Theresa May’s Brexit deal,” the Guardian reports. 

But the party argues that it has never supported the Northern Ireland protocol and has tried to have it overthrown. 

There was also upset among the party’s Free Presbyterian religious base that Foster abstained on an Assembly vote to ban gay conversion therapy.

Several DUP constituency associations wrote letters expressing concern at her decision to abstain on the vote, along with two of her ministers.

That so many DUP members signed a letter of no confidence was “a bold and unprecedented move within the Democratic Unionist Party”, reported the BBC’s Enda McClafferty earlier today.

The DUP does not usually depose its leaders and its voting system to select a new leader has “never been used”, said The Guardian. A tiny pool of just a few dozen DUP assembly members, MPs and peers will be able to select their next leader in the event of a contest, but there is no “obvious” successor to replace Foster, it added.

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