Riding high in May, shot down in June. Edwin Poots’s leadership of the DUP has come to an abrupt end after just 20 days following a revolt by the party’s Northern Ireland Assembly members. They opposed Poots’s candidate for first minister, Paul Givan, and the provisions for an Irish Language Act contained in the agreement made between Sinn Féin, the DUP and the UK government in order to form a new executive at Stormont.
Poots is, of course, in large part the direct author of that new act: the reason the DUP and Sinn Féin are once again negotiating over their legislative programme is that the coup against Arlene Foster means not only a vote for a new first minister but a whole series of talks about Stormont’s agenda and policy programme. If it hadn’t been for the coup against Foster, in which Poots played a major role, the DUP would not now be facing the prospect of the Irish Language Act’s provisions coming into force right before the next Stormont elections.
Whatever happens over the next three days – and remember that if a new first minister has not been agreed and put in place by Monday (21 June) it means a fresh set of elections in less-than-ideal circumstances for the DUP – the Northern Ireland Secretary, Brandon Lewis, has said the British government will put the provisions of the act into law if Stormont fails to do so.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the pressures on unionism – the demographic trend away from it, the economic condition of many loyalist communities and that regulatory border in the Irish Sea – aren’t going away, and they are part of the reason why the DUP’s leadership is in flux. They are part of the reason, too, why the current arrangement – of ever greater regulatory and, yes, cultural divergence between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, actively facilitated in the case of the border protocol by the Conservative government at Westminster – surely cannot last. A bumpy ride lies ahead, and not just for the DUP and whoever emerges as the party’s new leader.