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Ousted DUP leader says he nominated a First Minister against party’s wishes to fight ‘damaging’ Brexit protocol

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Edwin Poots, the DUP leader ousted after 21 days in the job, has told Sky News he nominated a First Minister against his party’s wishes to fight the Brexit Protocol.

In an exclusive interview, he said: “My focus was on the Northern Ireland Protocol first and foremost because constitutionally that is what is damaging Northern Ireland.

“Our best asset at this moment in time in fighting the Protocol is actually having the Assembly.”

Mr Poots, who succeeded Arlene Foster as DUP leader in May, nominated Paul Givan to be First Minister last Thursday.

At the same time, his party was voting in a room next door not to nominate until Boris Johnson addresses their concerns about the Protocol.

They were furious that the British government had agreed to table legislation on Irish Language rights at Westminster to keep Sinn Fein on board.

Mr Poots said: “I regret the fall-out from it. I think it was the right thing to do and it’s the right thing to do to ensure we have maximum leverage.

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“Ultimately it was my intention had we not got success on the Protocol… then I would have been prepared to pull Paul Givan out of that job. That was something which I wished to express but didn’t get the opportunity to express.”

Asked if he now regretted the ousting of Arlene Foster, Mr Poots replied: “Because I filled the position that Arlene held, people perhaps think I had much greater role in that than I actually had.

“There was lots going on the DUP. There were significant issues there and 85% of the Assembly group had a particular view and that’s reflected. I don’t wish to make things more difficult for Arlene. She’s now moved on.”

 Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
Image: Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has confirmed he will run for the leadership of the DUP

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who has confirmed he will be a candidate, is front-runner to succeed Mr Poots and become the DUP’s third leader in two months.

In a statement, he said: “Now, more than ever, we need to unite in the face of threats posed to Northern Ireland by the Protocol.

“Make no mistake, this is the number one issue facing our country, our people an dour place in the United Kingdom.”

If Sir Jeffrey remains the only candidate when nominations close at noon on Tuesday, he will be declared leader-elect.