Edwin Poots lasted a grand total of 20 days as leader of the DUP (21 if you count the day he was elected, but it was in the evening so I won’t). I can’t be entirely sure but I think this makes Edwin the shortest serving leader of a Government party in the UK or Ireland. I will wait for the data specialists to pour through the information, but if Poots isn’t the shortest then he’s certainly a close second.
Amongst all this is the very real prospect of a Stormont collapse, which had only been averted late last night as the British Government conceded to legislate for an Irish Language package if Stormont hadn’t delivered by October. That’s unlikely to happen, and was, according to DUP sources, the reasoning for the swift and brutal ousting of Edwin Poots as leader.
Political journalists confirmed this morning that DUP MLAs and MPs had voted against nominating a First Minister in the wake of the Irish Language debacle, but Poots went ahead and nominated his lieutenant Paul Givan MLA who was confirmed by the Assembly. Givan has quite literally been in the role for less than twelve hours, and could be replaced by whomever takes the reigns as the next DUP leader, making him the shortest serving head of Government in NI history.
The issue now is what happens next — if, and I suspect so, an election is on the table it will be incredibly difficult for the DUP leader (my money is on Jeffrey Donaldson, ironically a former UUP rep) to put any clear water between their mandate and that of Poots and Foster (who has no doubt had a lovely, relaxing evening). With three leaders in the space of two months, and another reshuffle in the offing, it’s difficult to see how that could be sold to Sinn Fein and other Executive partners, nevermind the electorate, without a fresh election.
Poots was lauded by some of the more extreme elements of Loyalism as their man to stand up to Brussels, Dublin and Westminster regarding the NI Protocol. Now that their man has been unceremoniously launched out of the control room by his own party, who do they turn to? With tensions being ratcheted up by the LCC and others in working class Loyalist areas, and moving close to marching season, an election could just be the push that is needed to bring the house of cards down completely.
The DUP will be entering an election shorthanded, should Sinn Fein refuse to nominate a deputy First Minister. Without any established track record for a new leader, and with laundry being aired so publicly it will be hard for the DUP to claw back any lost confidence amongst people who would rather not vote, than vote for a party that doesn’t have its own house in order.
Whoever the next DUP leader is, and if they are an MLA, they could well be the last DUP First Minister we see for a long time should Sinn Fein squeeze past them and take the most seats. That is, if Stormont manages to survive at all.
All eyes will be on the UUP who have had quite the opposite experience with Doug Beattie enjoying a honeymoon period. There is a real sense of dynamism and optimism within the UUP at the moment, no doubt helped by the slow motion implosion of the DUP. How they manage to play this to their advantage will be interesting, because there hasn’t been a moment quite like this for the Ulster Unionists since before 1998.
All in all, this is uncharted waters for democracy in Northern Ireland.