The DUP’s 28 MLAs and eight MPs will vote by secret ballot to choose Edwin Poots or Sir Jeffrey Donaldson as their party’s fourth leader next Friday.
n election for deputy leader, to replace Nigel Dodds, will also be held after he confirmed he would not be standing last night.
Lord Dodds said he had already decided “that I would be stepping back from my party role whenever the next internal election cycle occurred”.
“Since, under the party rules, Peers are not even part of the party’s electoral college for leadership positions, it would be incongruous and inappropriate to do otherwise.”
The party’s decision to give a vote to South Down MLA Jim Wells, who lost the whip three years ago, means that the winning candidate must now secure 19 votes.
Party sources said that Mr Poots was clearly ahead but that some MLAs still had to make up their minds, and they believed that others were open to persuasion by Sir Jeffrey’s team.
In a statement last night, DUP chairman Lord Morrow said that the first leadership contest in the DUP’s history will begin on Friday, May 14 at 11am.
It will be conducted virtually because of Covid-19 regulations.
Each leadership candidate will have 10 minutes to address the online meeting.
Each candidate for the deputy’s position will have five minutes to speak. After the online meeting, a voting station will open with votes cast by secret ballot. The results are expected to be announced at 5pm.
Lord Morrow said: “Following the completion of the above process, the election of the leader and deputy leader shall be put to the next meeting of the central executive committee for ratification as set out in rules.
“The party officers intend to make arrangements for a full meeting of the central executive committee to ratify and thereby complete the election process as quickly as possible thereafter and in line with the notification arrangements set out in the rules.”
Nominations for both the leader and deputy leader roles close at 5pm on Thursday.
Mr Wells, who has been sent official voting instructions from the party headquarters, welcomed the news that he would be able to vote. “I am delighted and pleased that I’m going to get a vote and my vote will be going to Edwin Poots,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Poots yesterday threatened legal action over the Brexit protocol.
He told MLAs that “ultimately (it) needs to go”. He said there were estimations of 15,000 checks on goods a week at local ports once various grace periods for the new rules ended.
The Agriculture Minister said that in January he had instructed his officials to obtain legal opinion from a senior UK constitutional lawyer, and that an eminent QC had been appointed, and is “currently scrutinising every aspect of that protocol”.
He added: “On completion of that piece of work, it is my intention to lodge judicial proceedings against the protocol.
“I would hope that the Department for the Economy and the Department for Health — because this is having major implications for both medicines and medical devices — will join with me in taking an action against the EU and the UK Government for the damage that it is inflicting on all of the people of Northern Ireland.”
Mr Poots also insisted that he has not “authorised” any new infrastructure to carry out checks.
“This has been imposed by Westminster, paid for by Westminster to placate the demands of Dublin, and indeed the pro-protocol parties, that is Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Green Party, and as a result every consumer will feel the pain of this protocol,” he added.
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said that the DUP’s fingerprints were all over the protocol regardless of who was its leader.
“Even with Arlene having been removed and a new leader in charge nothing will have changed,” he said. “The protocol will still be with us and, although the DUP language is likely to change to be more hardline, the protocol will remain unless rational dialogue and alternative options are promoted.
“The DUP leadership, with the full knowledge of its MPs and MLAs blinded by the champagne unionism afforded them at Westminster, set the conditions for the protocol. They offered no solutions.”
“In a two-week period, from October 2 to to October 17, 2019, the UUP put out 35 statements warning of the proposed Irish Sea border. This proposal, which the DUP had said at the time was a ‘serious and sensible way forward’, created the Northern Ireland Protocol later that same year.”
Earlier yesterday, tributes were paid to Mrs Foster across the Assembly chamber.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said she wanted to wish her “all the very best for the future”, but she also had a message for her successor.
“I want to say that (while) my determination is to work closely with the incoming minister, they should be in no doubt of my determination to ensure the delivery of the outstanding commitments, particularly where citizens’ rights are yet to be delivered in respect of language and culture, legacy and women’s health care,” she said.
UUP leader Steve Aiken said to Mrs Foster: “We might have had our differences but we wish you all the best for the future.”
Alliance’s John Blair said: “I first met the First Minister when she was doing her duty in my constituency when I was a local councillor. I saw her dedication to that duty on that occasion and since, and we thank her for that.