Arlene Foster could lose DUP leadership due to conversion therapy vote and Brexit

Around 75% of the DUP's MLAs have signed a letter of no confidence in Foster, paving the way for an end to her five-and-a-half year tenure as leader.

An angry woman pointing from a podium

The leadership of DUP leader Arlene Foster is hanging in the balance after members of her parliamentary party moved against her this week.

At least 21 of the party’s 28 Stormont Assembly members and four of its eight Westminster MPs are understood to have signed a letter of no confidence against the First Minister on Tuesday according to the Belfast News Letter. The leadership of the DUP is decided by these Assembly members and Westminster MPs.

It is believed that the challenge has come about in part because of the motion to ban conversion therapy that was passed in the Assembly last week. The majority of DUP members voted against the motion after their amendment to remove a section reading “it is fundamentally wrong to view our LGBTQ community as requiring a fix or cure” was voted down.

Foster abstained from the overall vote on the motion which is said to have angered many on the conservative, traditionalist Christian wing of the party who believed she should have voted against it.

However, it has been her handling of Brexit and the Northern Ireland Protocol that has caused the most frustration for those in the DUP. She initially suggested the Protocol could be the best of both worlds as it allowed access to the EU single market and the UK’s internal market. This proved unpopular with her party as the Protocol led to a border down the Irish Sea. She later took the position of wanting the Protocol scrapped.

Last week, Northern Ireland’s Economy Minister Daine Dodds took part in a north-south ministerial meeting with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy, who is Northern Ireland’s Finance Minister. This further angered hardliners in the party who want to see a boycott of all north-south links as part of the campaign against the Protocol.

When asked by the Press Association if her leadership was in question, Foster said: “Stories on leadership come up from time to time, and it’s one of those times.

“So 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.”

Foster was elected as the first female leader of the DUP in December 2015, taking over from Peter Robinson. Her tenure has been marred by the ‘cash for ash’ scandal which contributed to the collapse of the power sharing agreement and left Northern Ireland with no government for three years.

Critics said she wasted the huge amounts of goodwill from her supporter that existed when she took over and made strategic errors over Brexit. “Her intransigence, petulance, arrogance, lack of generosity, and political myopia have been catastrophic for unionism,” tweeted Deirdre Heenan, a social policy professor at Ulster University.

The DUP released a statement that did not confirm nor deny the challenge. “Whilst understanding that there will be from time to time public interest in party processes, these issues, in the first instance, are matters for members of the party and we are not able to make any further comment at this time,” it said.

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