The leader of Northern Ireland’s largest political party has agreed to step down, just three weeks after taking office, the dramatic culmination of a row over how to pursue the region’s power-sharing government.
Edwin Poots announced his resignation as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party in an emailed statement after a four-hour meeting with DUP officers in Belfast. He will remain in office until the appointment of his successor.
The creationist, who rose to power by promising to be tougher on fundamental Unionist issues, faced a vote of no-confidence after challenging the party and in fact agreeing to concessions with the nationalist Sinn Féin party to save the power-sharing government to collapse.
“It has been a difficult time for the party and the country,” Poots said in his resignation statement, adding that he had “conveyed to the President my determination to do everything possible to ensure that trade unionism and Ireland of the North can move forward to a stronger place ”.
Earlier on Thursday, Poots defied a DUP vote and appointed Paul Givan as Northern Ireland’s new prime minister, allowing Stormont’s power-sharing government to continue with Sinn Féin, which convinced Westminster to speed up legislation advancing the Irish language.
DUP members opposed both the principle of London’s intervention and the fact that Sinn Féin had obtained a concession.
The revolt against Poots is the latest sign of turbulence in Northern Ireland which has been fueled by the terms of the UK’s Brexit deal with the EU.
Sammy Wilson, a senior DUP official, publicly criticized Poots’ appointment of Givan on Thursday afternoon and refused to rule out a vote of no confidence in his leadership.
“The numbers are worse than they were against Arlene [Foster]A person familiar with the situation said before the meeting with party leaders, referring to the ousting of Poots’ predecessor in April after losing support from DUP politicians.
Sinn Féin had said he would only continue in administration if legislation to improve the status of the Irish language was quickly approved in Stormont.
The DUP had refused, but the stalemate was broken on Wednesday evening when the UK government said it would pass the legislation in Westminster.
The move had enabled Poots to appoint Givan as Foster’s successor as Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. Sinn Féin has reappointed Michelle O’Neill as Deputy Prime Minister.
But Wilson said DUP MPs and party members in Stormont had made it “very, very clear” in a vote earlier Thursday that they were against Poots’ immediate appointment of Givan.
“It’s hard to trust someone who puts aside the strongly held opinions of all the different sections of the party and pushes forward,” Wilson added, referring to Poots.
“I guarantee you most trade unionists. . . will be appalled as the powers of the assembly will be. . . be set aside to promote a niche interest of Sinn Féin.
Poots had said he was proposing Givan without “a Sinn Féin precondition” and that the aim was to make Northern Ireland “a better place for everyone”.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said on Wednesday she had asked Westminster to intervene as it had become “abundantly clear” that the DUP would not prioritize Irish language legislation.
Poots served as DUP chief for less than three weeks, succeeding Foster after Brexit played a significant role in his ousting as DUP chief and prime minister.
Deirdre Heenan, professor of social policy at the University of Ulster, said earlier that it was “difficult to overstate the strategic, political and strategic failure of the Poots coup”.
“This DUP [members at Stormont] and the deputies voted against the nomination to the post of prime minister reflects the anger and disarray within the party, ”she added.