Arlene Foster 'sowed seeds of downfall' early claims Cairns
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DUP assembly members signed a letter on Tuesday calling for a leadership contest within the party, which could see Arlene Foster out of a job sooner than she may have expected. A leadership challenge would add further political turmoil to an-already rattled country, which has seen street disturbances linked to the post-British Irish Sea border – a move unionists fear will weaken Northern Ireland’s position within the UK. The no-confidence motion could spell the end of Ms Foster’s political legacy, which saw her become the first woman and youngest person in history to lead Northern Ireland and the DUP in 2015.
Why is Arlene Foster facing a no-confidence vote?
DUP members are angry with Ms Foster’s handling of the Northern Ireland protocol, the part of the Brexit deal that imposes checks on goods coming in from mainland UK.
Ms Foster briefly endorsed the arrangements in January only to agree with MPs who urged a campaign of resistance.
Party hardliners want the Government to show stronger tactics against the protocol.
Ms Foster and the rest of her party have been haunted by the rousing welcome they gave Prime Minister Boris Johnson at their 2018 party conference, during which the Foreign Secretary promised to fight any attempt at a sea border.
The DUP smoothed Mr Johnson’s path to Downing Street by outright rejecting former PM Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
Critics have said she frittered away unprecedented levels of goodwill and made grave strategic errors over Brexit.
Deirdre Heenan, a social policy professor at Ulster University, tweeted: “Her intransigence, petulance, arrogance, lack of generosity and political myopia have been catastrophic for unionism.”
The DUP’s Free Presbyterian religious base was also upset with Ms Foster last week after she and two of her ministers chose to abstain on an assembly vote to ban gay conversion therapy.
DUP sourced told the Guardian that the letter, which isn’t yet public, has been signed by the majority of the party’s 27 assembly members.
The Belfast News Letter, which broke news of the letter, said at least 21 members of the assembly had signed alongside four of the DUP’s eight Westminster MPs.
A statement from the DUP’s official central office didn’t confirm a leadership challenge.
They did, however, say party officers oversaw the conduct and organisation of its internal democratic electoral process.
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The office said: “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.”
Ms Foster reportedly cancelled a planned meeting with Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis on Tuesday evening.
This is a very uncommon occurrence for the DUP, which does not depose leaders normally.
The Party was established by preacher Ian Paisley in 1971 as a symbol of British and Ulster Protestant identity during the Irish troubles.
Mr Paisley handed down the power to Peter Robinson in 2008, who stepped down for Ms Foster in 2015.
The voting system to choose a new leader has never been used, and puts the decision in the hands of just a few people – assembly members, MPs and peers.
As things stand, it doesn’t appear as though there is one obvious successor.
University of Liverpool politics professor Jon Tonge pointed at East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson as one potential contender for DUP leader.
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