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'There is no threat' - Foster denies DUP leadership challenge after MLA rebellion

DUP leader Arlene Foster has denied her leadership position is under threat after 11 MLAs rebelled on a key Assembly bill.

Mrs Foster said that while she accepted some MLAs had concerns with the legislation, in her view "there is no threat".

It's after DUP MLAs rebelled on a crucial Stormont vote on giving extra power to Executive Ministers.

Critics have argued it will give ministers the freedom to go on solo runs removing a veto to allow others to put the brakes on decisions.

The First Minister told BBC Radio Ulster: "Obviously there are colleagues with concerns, I will speak to each of my colleagues individually about those concerns, but I think it is right that we put the bill forward to plug that gap which could have caused grave difficulties."

Asked if she felt her leadership was under threat Mrs Foster replied: "No, not at all.

"I don't see it as a threat to my leadership when people express opinions, I welcome that actually and colleagues abstained, they did not vote against the bill.

"Nobody has expressed that to me, or indeed to any of my senior colleagues. I talk to my senior colleagues every single day of the week so no I don't think that and I think people should not try and conflate this into a leadership challenge.

"I know maybe it's that time of the year to do this sort of thing, but certainly there is no threat."

Mrs Foster said her role as First Minister gave her access to information that wasn't available to everyone and it was necessary for the legislation to be accelerated through the Assembly.

"One of the key reasons for that, for me, was the fact there had been a gap identified in relation to significant and controversial issues," the DUP leader said.

"If we didn't have a programme for Government then those issues could be taken by ministers in their own department and there was no necessity to bring them to the Executive.

"I was concerned about that and this bill stops that from happening. It is now very clear that all significant or controversial matters now must come to the Executive Committe whether or not we have a programme for Government."

The DUP leader confirmed that no action would be taken against dissenting MLAs as the vote was not whipped.

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Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots

Mrs Foster's statement comes after DUP stalwart Edwin Poots gave her his full support.

He denied the vote it was a challenge to Arlene Foster's leadership and those that did not vote along party lines were not doing so on that basis.

He said the party was "fully behind" Mrs Foster and he had no issue with backing the bill's progress to becoming an Act.

The Agriculture Minister was speaking to the Belfast Telegraph at the launch of a £1.7million stimulus fund.

He said he understood the concerns of those DUP MLA which defied the party whip but said it was an internal matter.

"They expressed those concerns in the way they did," he added, "but that's a matter that has happened and we will pick up and move on very quickly from that.

"Mrs Foster has done some tremendous work on Covid-19 and has given really good leadership in the country and I have no doubt the party will continue to support her."

The minister launched the fund to support the expansion of rural and micro businesses at Hamilton Erskine which has received Stormont support. Mr Poots was given a tour of the factory which designs and produces advances composites for the automative and aerospace industry in Ballygowan

"[The support] has secured jobs each time, created new jobs in a rural community and supported the business in its growth," Mr Poots said.

"This is something that has worked well in a rural community and supported long term sustainable jobs."

Belfast Telegraph