James Forsyth James Forsyth

Edwin Poots’s narrow leadership win is a sign of DUP divisions

Edwin Poots (centre) is the new DUP leader (Getty images)

Edwin Poots is the new leader of the DUP. He defeated Jeffrey Donaldson by 19 votes to 17. The closeness of the race, the DUP’s first ever leadership contest, is a sign of how deeply divided the party is.

While Poots is the new DUP leader, he will not be First Minister. He has been clear that he will leave that job to a party colleague.

Donaldson, like Arlene Foster, has come to the DUP from the Ulster Unionist Party. In party terms, he is a more moderate figure. Poots, though, was born into the DUP and is a more hardline social conservative. He will likely concentrate on winning back those DUP voters who have moved over to the Traditional Unionist Voice, largely prompted by anger at the Northern Ireland protocol. But he’ll likely accelerate the shift of voters to the Alliance; 18.6 per cent of Alliance voters at the 2019 election had voted for the DUP in 2017.

Poots has worked in the executive with Sinn Fein so we shouldn’t ignore his pragmatism. But if the party becomes more of the political wing of evangelical Protestantism then it is hard to see that being good for the Union in the medium term.

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