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end of an era Arlene Foster resigns as DUP leader and will step down as First Minister in June


Arlene Foster has resigned as the leader of the DUP.

Ms Foster had come under increasing pressure from within the party in recent days.

The First Minister of Northern Ireland said she will step down as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party on May 28, and as First Minister of Northern Ireland at the end of June.

She said leading the DUP and serving as First Minister of Northern Ireland as the “greatest honour of my life”.

Mrs Foster said she intended to “depart the political stage”.

“It has been the privilege of my life to serve the people of Northern Ireland as their First Minister and to represent my home constituency of Fermanagh/South Tyrone,” she said.

“I first entered the Assembly in 2003 and undoubtedly the journey of the last eighteen years has been memorable. There are many people who have helped and supported me throughout that period and I will always be grateful for the kindness and support shown to me by them.

“Whilst there have been many difficult and testing times for the executive it remains my firm view that Northern Ireland has been better served having local ministers at this time. It is unthinkable that we could have faced into the coronavirus pandemic without our own devolved ministers in place and no ministerial direction for departments.”

On Tuesday afternoon, the First Minister had attempted to downplay the scale of the internal revolt, which comes amid mounting discontent among party faithful over her leadership.

"Stories on leadership come up from time to time, and it's one of those times," she said.

However, in an apparent indication of the escalating situation, Mrs Foster cancelled a scheduled meeting with Secretary of State Brandon Lewis and deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill on Tuesday evening.

There has been growing unease among DUP members about Mrs Foster and the wider party leadership in recent months.

The primary source of concern is the handling of the Brexit process. The DUP is facing anger from the wider loyalist and unionist community for the introduction of an Irish Sea border.

Critics have accused Mrs Foster of failing to use the party's influence at Westminster - particularly during its confidence and supply deal with the Conservatives - to secure a Brexit deal that saw Northern Ireland leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the UK.

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She has also been accused of not being vociferous enough in opposition to the contentious Northern Ireland Protocol, which governs the new Brexit trading barriers between NI and GB, ahead of its introduction at the start of 2021.

Poor recent polling numbers have exacerbated the discontent within the party faithful, who are mindful of next May's looming Assembly election.

Mrs Foster's decision to abstain in a vote on gay conversion therapy last week appears to have further agitated sections of the party's fundamentalist grassroots.

Mrs Foster was earlier asked whether her leadership was in question on a visit to a youth centre in Belfast on Tuesday afternoon.

"We'll just deal with it and move on because I've bigger things to do, including getting us through this Covid pandemic, including listening to the concerns of working-class communities," she said.

However her statement just 24 hours later confirmed she will step down as leader of the DUP on May 28, and as First Minister at the end of June.

More to follow..

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Online Editors