Arlene Foster: Leadership of DUP hangs in the balanceon April 28, 2021 at 6:51 am

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Party MPs, NI Assembly members and councillors have challenged her remaining as party leader.

Arlene Foster’s leadership of the Democratic Unionist Party hangs in the balance after party members signed a letter of no-confidence in her.

The letter concerning Mrs Foster, who is also first minister, was circulated among DUP MPs and NI Assembly members.

The party said it would not be commenting.

It is understood there is majority support among the party’s Stormont and Westminster ranks – about 80% – for a change in leadership.

It is believed 22 of the party’s 27 MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) and four MPs have so far signed the letter.

Only a small number of the DUP membership – MLAs and MPs – will get to vote in a leadership contest.

Mrs Foster has endured a turbulent time as DUP leader and the fall-out from Brexit – which the party supported – has put particular pressure on the party’s top brass as it faces having to weather the storm caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol, which imposed a border down the Irish Sea.

It has also been suggested that recent changes to NI’s abortion laws and the commitment to implement an Irish language act were causing concerns with some elected DUP representatives ahead of next year’s assembly election.

Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds

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In addition, a letter was sent from DUP councillors to the party chairman, Lord Morrow, stating they were “severely worried” about the state of the party and country and calling for Mrs Foster and deputy leader Lord Dodds to resign.

“We as councillors and as members are deeply concerned about the future of unionism, Ulster conservatism and the DUP,” the letter states.

“As members and councillors, we have received the brunt of the anger from our voter base caused by ineffective leadership.”

Mrs Foster was elected as the first female leader of the DUP in December 2015, taking over from Peter Robinson. She was the only candidate.

Her time at the helm has been seen many challenges, having faced Brexit, a botched green energy scandal which subsequently led to the collapse of Stormont for three years and Covid-19.

The aftermath of Brexit has also caused friction both internally and between the party and some of its core voters who are unhappy at the deal which led to the Irish Sea border.

The DUP has argued that it has never supported the Northern Ireland protocol and has actively tried to have it overthrown.

For some time there have been rumblings of discontent, but Mrs Foster’s internal enemies have lacked the numbers, or the courage, to act against her.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mrs Foster played down suggestions her leadership of the party was under threat.

It followed a report in the Belfast News Letter, which said there was internal party unrest over her leadership.

But Mrs Foster said stories on leadership “come up from time to time”.

“So we’ll just deal with it and move on because I’ve bigger things to do, including getting us through this Covid pandemic, including listening to the concerns of working-class communities,” she said.

Mrs Foster posted a biblical verse from the Book of Psalms on her private Facebook page on Tuesday evening: “It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure”.

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Analysis box by Enda McClafferty, NI political editor

The move to oust Mrs Foster in the middle of a pandemic will raise the political stakes at a critical time.

The prospect of a DUP leadership contest at a time when the executive is trying to steer Northern Ireland out of lockdown will be challenging.

The prospect of an early election could also move closer.

The Northern Ireland Office has already started to scope out the potential fallout.

Might the DUP under a new leader harden its stance in the executive when it comes to working with Sinn Féin?

Might the party demand concessions on the Northern Ireland Protocol before appointing a first minister?

If the party fails to replace Mrs Foster as first minister seven days after her resignation then the secretary of state will be forced to call an election.

Electing a new leader might settle the unrest within the DUP but it could also unsettle those outside who share power with the party.

Read more here.

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In a statement, the DUP said on Tuesday it would not be commenting.

“Whilst understanding that there will be from time-to-time public interest in party processes, these issues, in the first instance, are matters for members of the party and we are not able to make any further comment at this time,” it said.

Mrs Foster was due to meet Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis on Tuesday evening but that was cancelled.

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