New Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has been rocked by the resignation of one of his party’s representatives at Stormont on his first full day in charge.
Alex Easton, the North Down MLA, has announced his decision to quit the DUP – citing a lack of “respect, discipline or decency” in the party.
“I have had to stand back and watch as colleagues tear themselves apart, brief against other colleagues and run to the media in order to hurt each other on a daily basis,” said Mr Easton.
“There is no respect, discipline or decency, I have just had enough,” added the MLA, who will now sit in the Northern Ireland Assembly as an independent.
The move comes after two months of unprecedented turmoil for the party. Successive revolts deposed former leader Arlene Foster and then her successor Edwin Poots, who quit after just 21 days in the job.
Sir Jeffrey vowed to unite the party after being ratified as leader by members of the DUP executive on Wednesday night.
The party’s 58-year-old Westminster leader was the only candidate to put his name forward for the DUP leadership after the dramatic resignation of Mr Poots earlier this month.
Speaking to the media after he was confirmed, Sir Jeffrey said: “There has been a lot of talking, I have spent time over the past few days talking quietly to colleagues, including Edwin (Poots). There have been things we have said to each other, recognising the hurt that has been caused.”
He added: “I think that has been good, it has been cathartic for the party and I think there is now a united determination. There is a desire to unite, to draw together, because in our unity is our strength.”
He referred to the ongoing row over the protocol after a High Court ruling on Wednesday said that it conflicts with the Act of Union – the legislation that created the United Kingdom – but is still lawful.
Sir Jeffrey said: “I expect the prime minister to put right this wrong, I expect the prime minister to take the action that is required to restore our place within the UK.”
The new leader has made clear his intent to return from Westminster to assume the first minister’s job at Stormont. However, the timeline for that move remains unclear.
He would have to trigger a parliamentary by-election in Lagan Valley in order to re-enter the Northern Ireland Assembly.
It is unclear whether he would want to prompt such a contest in the near future, given the DUP’s recent poor poll ratings.
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