Edwin Poots vows to create unionist convention if he wins DUP contest

Edwin Poots (Liam McBurney/PA)
Edwin Poots (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Archive)
18:57pm, Wed 05 May 2021
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DUP leadership contender Edwin Poots has vowed to establish a unionist convention to maximise support for the pro-Union position.

The pledge is included in a four-page manifesto Mr Poots has sent to party colleagues ahead of next week’s vote on the new leader.

Mr Poots, who is taking on Sir Jeffrey Donaldson in the race to replace the ousted Arlene Foster, said he would lead a campaign against Brexit’s “undemocratic” Northern Ireland Protocol to “systematically undermine and strip away all aspects of it”.

The Lagan Valley MLA said a unionist convention incorporating political and civic unionists would seek to maximise unionist representation after 2022 Assembly election.

If elected leader, he said he would also set up a pro-Union think tank involving academics and business figures and also a pro-Union foundation to support projects designed to strengthen the Union.

He said he would also work to build international outreach to explain the unionist cause in London, Brussels and North America.

Arlene Foster (Niall Carson/PA) (PA Wire)

Mr Poots said his decision to split the roles of party leader and Stormont first minister would enable him to put 100% focus on the challenges faced by his party.

“The DUP has to win back the trust and support of voters,” he wrote.

“Only by maximising Unionism will we silence and repel our opponents and give a resounding response to the persistent call for a divisive and unwanted border poll.”

Mr Poots told colleagues he wanted to “restructure and re-energise” the DUP with reforms centred on increasing transparency and engagement.

He said he wanted to put “democracy” back into the DUP.

In terms of his approach to governing in Stormont’s powersharing executive, Mr Poots said he would be “challenging and exposing republican propaganda and shameless populism”.

The DUP is experiencing it first-ever leadership contest in its 50-year history.

The vote, by way of secret ballot, will take place on Friday May 14.

The electorate is made up of the DUP’s 36 MPs and MLAs.

Announcing his bid on Monday, Sir Jeffrey vowed to promote a positive strategy and values if elected, with a focus on building a shared future for everyone in Northern Ireland.

The party’s current Westminster leader also pledged meaningful reform within the DUP and said he would set clear policy directions on key challenges for unionism, such as the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mrs Foster resigned last week after an internal revolt against her leadership.

The move came in the form of a letter of no confidence signed by a majority of the party’s senior elected representatives.

The outgoing DUP leader will step down from that role on May 28, and as Stormont First Minister at the end of June.

Discontent at the DUP’s Brexit strategy was a major factor in the move against Mrs Foster, with party rank-and-file laying some of the blame for the emergence of an Irish Sea border, in the form of the protocol, at her door.

Traditionalists from the party’s religious fundamentalist wing also harboured concerns over positions Mrs Foster has taken on some social issues, in particular her decision to abstain in a recent Assembly vote on a proposed ban on gay conversion therapy, a proposal the majority of her party colleagues opposed.

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