Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019

DUP insists no plans to ditch Arlene Foster as MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson fails to back her

DUP members with party leader Arlene Foster (left), Emma Little-Pengelly and Nigel Dodds at the election count in the Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast
DUP members with party leader Arlene Foster (left), Emma Little-Pengelly and Nigel Dodds at the election count in the Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast
DUP leader Arlene Foster at the Belfast count centre. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Senior DUP sources on Friday night insisted there is no threat to Arlene Foster's leadership after the party's disastrous Westminster election performance.

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The party will carry out a detailed post-mortem into what went wrong, but insiders said Mrs Foster's position was secure.

They were speaking after Sir Jeffrey Donaldson declined to back her as he appealed to the UUP to work more closely with his party as unionists were giving away seats "on a plate".

Mrs Foster said that her position wasn't under threat. "Why would my leadership be in any doubt when we have a job of work to do?" she told UTV.

"My focus is very much on that. I'm not somebody who lies down when difficulties present themselves.

"I look for solutions. I'm looking for the solution of getting the Assembly up and running again."

Asked if she was considering her future as DUP leader, she replied: "No, not at all."

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The DUP's vote was down five percentage points on 2017 and, for the first time ever, more nationalist than unionist MPs were elected.

When asked about Nigel Dodds and Emma Little-Pengelly losing in North and South Belfast, Mrs Foster said that the DUP's opponents had "ganged up against Nigel" and had described him as an "arch-Brexiteer" and "toxic DUP".

She added: "It was the same of course in South Belfast where you had pan-nationalism and the Greens coming out against Emma."

She said she was confident that the DUP would recover whatever ground it lost. "We will turn this around. Politics is about the art of the possible."

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DUP leader Arlene Foster at the Belfast count centre. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

The DUP leader said that her party had been given "a very clear message" that people wanted devolution restored and Stormont ministers tackling the health and education crises. She also said her party would reflect on the election result. "To those who felt unable to support us, we're listening," she tweeted.

One senior DUP source said: "There is no threat to Arlene's position. There is concern at how we polled but there is certainly no move against her."

DUP MLA Jim Wells said he would be surprised if Mrs Foster's leadership was challenged.

"We did lose votes in the Alliance surge but that's temporary and they'll come back to us once Brexit is sorted," he added.

Speaking to the BBC, Sir Jeffrey appealed for unionist unity, saying the "luxury of splintering the vote" could no longer be afforded.

Asked what the election result meant for Mrs Foster's leadership, he said he would not speculate on the matter and that the party would carry out a detailed review.

It was put to him that his words were "far from a resounding endorsement" of her. "You asked me and I gave a clear answer," he replied.

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said Northern Ireland's voters had clearly opposed Brexit and shown their desire to protect the Good Friday Agreement.

"Sinn Fein wants to see a successful conclusion of the talks established by the two governments and the political institutions restored on a credible and a sustainable basis," she said.

"I and our negotiating team stand ready to re-enter talks with the two governments and the other parties on Monday and we will work towards securing agreement on outstanding issues. We need a new kind of politics, a new Assembly and a new Executive, which is underpinned by the resources to deliver quality public services."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said that he and Claire Hanna would vociferously challenge the new Tory government.

"We will be there to vote against him and to speak against him as he seeks a reckless Brexit that we did not consent to," Mr Eastwood said.

"But this election was also about people sending a very clear message to the DUP and Sinn Fein.

"Our hospital waiting lists spiralling out of control, schools are unable to afford basic resources and vulnerable people are facing into a welfare cliff-edge in a few months. It's time for politicians to do something about it and get back to work."

UUP leader Steve Aiken said he was deeply disappointed in his party's results and the "very bad night for unionism overall".

He added: "Boris Johnson will now drive through what is an utterly disastrous deal for Northern Ireland.

"There will be further consequences for the Union unless unionism starts to think strategically instead of focusing on short term tactics.

"On our own results, we must reflect on them and start to rebuild. There's a job of work to be done and I am up for it.

"The clear message from the electorate is that they want local politicians to get back to work and restore the Assembly and the Executive."

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