Veteran lawmaker to lead N. Ireland’s DUP after turmoil

LONDON (AP) — Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party on Tuesday named veteran lawmaker Jeffrey Donaldson as its new leader, weeks after he narrowly lost the election to lead the senior partner in Northern Ireland’s government.

The party said that when nominations closed at noon, no one had come forward to challenge Donaldson, the sole candidate to replace Edwin Poots.

“Following the completion of our party processes Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP will be the next leader of the Democratic Unionist Party,” said party chairman Maurice Morrow. The choice will be ratified by the DUP’s central executive committee on Saturday.

Poots was chosen over Donaldson in a party contest in May, but resigned last week after colleagues revolted over a deal to appoint new leaders to the Protestant-Catholic power-sharing administration in Belfast.

The turmoil in the DUP was fueled by Britain’s economic split from the European Union at the end of 2020, which has shaken the political balance in Northern Ireland, part of the U.K., where some people identify as British and some as Irish.

Post-Brexit trade rules have imposed customs and border checks on some goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K., angering Northern Ireland’s British unionists who say the new checks amount to a border in the Irish Sea and weaken ties with the rest of the U.K.

Tensions over the new rules contributed to a week of street violence in Northern Irish cities in April that saw youths pelt police with bricks, fireworks and gasoline bombs.

The DUP is demanding the U.K. government scraps the new rules, known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, which are designed to keep an open border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

Donaldson said Tuesday he would speak to U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson “at the earliest opportunity to emphasize that it is not realistic to expect stability when every unionist representative in the devolved institutions opposes the Northern Ireland Protocol.”

“The government and those who claim to be protectors of peace and stability, must step up and deal with the Protocol in a manner which respects the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom,” he said.

Poots broke with tradition by deciding not to serve as first minister of Northern Ireland, instead appointing Paul Givan to the post last week. Donaldson has said he will quit his seat in Britain’s House of Commons and return to the Belfast Assembly to take up the post of first minister.

The DUP, which is rooted in the fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church, opposed Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace accord. It later became reconciled to it and shares power with the Irish Republican Army-linked Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein.