General Election results: Unionism's post mortem sees Donaldson refuse to back Foster and reach out to UUP
- Can't afford 'luxury of splintering vote'
- 'Dodds still has role to play'
- Aiken says unionism needs to think strategically
The DUP's Sir Jeffrey Donaldson refused to back his party leader after a bruising day at the polls.
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He also made an appeal to the UUP for unionist unity saying they could no longer afford the "luxury of splintering the vote" and hand seats to nationalists.
The DUP lost two seats - including Westminster leader's Nigel Dodds - and saw its vote share drop by just over five percent.
It comes off the back of the DUP being at the centre of power at Westminster for the past two years and the party supporting the Conservative government.
"We are still the biggest party... the DUP is still a force," Sir Jeffrey told the BBC.
"The loss of personalities like Nigel Dodds who was a towering figure for us in the House of Commons and Emma Little Pengelly who was an excellent MP for South Belfast is undoubtedly a set back."
Asked about what the result meant for Arlene Foster's leadership, he said he would not speculate on the matter and the party would carry out a detailed post mortem of its results.
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"Arlene will be at Stormont on Monday leading the team to get the Assembly restored that is where our focus is - frankly that is what the people want us to do."
It was put to him that his words were "far from a resounding endorsement" for the party leader.
"You asked me and I gave a clear answer," he hit back.
"Our focus is on getting Stormont back up and running again. That is where Arlene will be on Monday leading those negotiations to try and get the Assembly up and running again."
Mrs Foster rejected any suggestion the vote called into question her leadership.
"If you look at the votes you will find the greater number of people in Northern Ireland still want to remain within the UK.
"That to me is a very important point," she said at the Belfast count centre.
The UUP said the General Election results were "a very bad night for unionism".
"There will be further consequences for the Union unless unionism starts to think strategically instead of focusing on short term tactics," said leader Steve Aiken.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the message on the doorsteps over the course of the campaign was that while Brexit was an issue, the Assembly restoration was the focus of the majority. He said the "splintering" of unionist votes was crucial in the final outcome.
"We almost pulled off a victory for unionism in Fermanagh South Tyrone and we did that because unionism came together," he continued.
"I think unionists are fed up to the back teeth of this inter-unionist squabbling and I say sincerely to the Steve Aiken and his colleagues in the UUP seriously can we continue with a situation where we are handing seats on a plate to nationalist representatives?
"We simply can not afford such a luxury any longer if unionism is to continue to have an effective voice."
He added: "On nationalists now outnumbering unionists in the Commons he made an appeal to the SDLP for support in parliament.
"We recognise in Northern Ireland there is a lot of frustration in terms of restoring the executive which has been to the benefit of Alliance," he said.
A bad night for unionism. Steve Aiken
The newly returned Lagan Valley MP said they would continue to try and put across the issues they have with the withdrawal agreement.
On nationalists now outnumbering unionists in the Commons he made an appeal to the SDLP for support in parliament.
"We do have our differences, including on Brexit," he said, "but I think both ourselves and the SDLP agree what is on the table at the moment is potentially very damaging to the NI economy with this idea of a customs border.
"But there is an area we can work together to get a message across to government at Westminster .. that they do need to listen to the voices of Northern Ireland."
On Nigel Dodds losing his seat Sir Jeffrey said he hoped he would continue to contribute to Northern Ireland politics.
There was specualtion before the election - which has continued - that he could be drafted in to replace Carla Lockhart in Upper Bann as MLA. She was successful in retaining the Commons seat held by David Simpson.
"I still want to see him continue in a role that would be approiate and would reflect his prominence."
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