Arlene Foster forced out as NI first minister and leader of the DUP

#Brexit special section Beyond England In the media

Arlene Foster has announced she is quitting her positions as Northern Ireland’s first minister and leader of the DUP after a surprise revolt within the party.

Foster’s official exit as DUP leader on May 28 follows the circulation of a letter of no-confidence in the DUP leader who has come under increasing pressure in recent days.

The letter is believed to have been signed by around three-quarters of the DUP’s MLAs and four (of its eight) MPs, and it also called for Nigel Dodds to resign as deputy leader of the party. Dodds lost his seat as MP for North Belfast in 2019 but remains at Westminster having been made Lord Dodds of Duncairn.

Foster will step down as first minister at the end of June and her departure “appears to be an attempt to turn the page”. The DUP fears a backlash from voters over the party’s role in supporting the Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal the resultant Northern Ireland Protocol, reports the Guardian.

‘Scapegoat for Brexit’

In the Belfast Telegraph, Suzanne Breen wrote yesterday that Foster was set to become the “DUP’s shortest serving leader”, stating the party’s “first female leader looks on course to be pushed out after just five [years]”

“She is hardly a radical, yet her brand of politics has proved too liberal for the DUP,” writes Breen, quoting a “DUP stalwart” who said there “had to be a move ahead of the summer” to refresh the party before next year’s Assembly election and “also in advance of the Twelfth [of July].”

Breen surmises that Foster was the DUP’s “scapegoat” for Brexit, while the Irish News calls the “internal push” against Foster,“the final twist in a leadership rollercoaster that has been seldom free of controversy.”

Clash between modernity and Christian fundamentalism

The News Letter reports the claim of SDLP leader Colum Eastwood who said Foster was forced out of her party because she abstained on a vote regarding gay conversion therapy.

“The circumstances that have led to the First Minister’s resignation are deeply concerning,” said Eastwood. “That a political leader would be removed from office by their party for failing to support conversion therapy is distressing and will cause some alarm for members of our LGBT+ community. They should know that we will not roll back on the progress we’ve made or deny them their rights.”

John Manley in the Irish News writes that “we are witnessing a clash at the heart of the DUP between modernity and Christian fundamentalism, and it is imploding as a result.”

The choice of Foster’s successor, says Manley, is about “more than just the future of the DUP” given it will “send a clear signal” about the direction of politics in Northern Ireland for the forthcoming years.

The Telegraph states a hardline successor could exacerbate tensions in Northern Ireland that have been heightened by Brexit’s new trading arrangements.

It says UK government sources have been “privately expressing their frustration at the move to oust” Foster, with fears her successor could cause collisions with Westminster on issues such as abortion and LGBT rights, on top of more problems over Brexit border checks and infrastructure.

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