Edwin Poots announces candidacy for DUP leadership

The Lagan Valley MLA has been viewed as one of the main contenders to replace Arlene Foster, Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Stormont Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has announced his intention to stand for the leadership of the DUP.

The widely anticipated move by Mr Poots comes 24 hours after Arlene Foster announced her intention to stand down as party leader and Stormont First Minister.

The Lagan Valley Assembly member has been viewed as one of the main contenders to replace his departing leader, who was forced to quit in the face of an internal heave against her.

Mrs Foster is standing down as DUP leader on May 28 and as First Minister at the end of June.

In a video posted on Twitter, Mr Poots outlined his reasons for running.

“I am a proud Northern Ireland man, I love its people and its place, and it faces many challenging times, it’s with that in mind, I’m putting my name forward for the leadership for the Democratic Unionist Party,” he said.

“I look forward to the engagement and the debate with colleagues and the wider public in this contest.

“Northern Ireland is a place that has had many great things over this last hundred years, I wish to see us rebuild, revitalise, reinvigorate and revive for the next hundred.”

It is unclear whether Mr Poots will yet have competition in his bid to take charge of Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party.

Edwin Poots has been widely tipped as potential successor to Mrs Foster Credit: Liam McBurney/PA

The DUP has never had a contested leadership race.

Other names thought to be in the mix for the soon to be vacant leadership include MPs Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Gavin Robinson.

Veteran East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson may also consider a run.

There is some speculation that when Mrs Foster does depart, the twin roles she currently occupies could be split, with one politician taking on the role of party leader and another being appointed First Minister.

That would potentially allow an MP to lead the party from Westminster while an MLA takes on the First Minister’s job.

While Mrs Foster had been under mounting pressure from disgruntled DUP supporters for months, the pace at which her grip on power slipped this week has surprised many.

Arlene Foster resigned in the face of an internal revolt Credit: Liam McBurney/PA

Her resignation on Wednesday came a day after party colleagues unhappy with her leadership moved against her, with a majority of senior elected representatives signing a letter of no confidence.

Discontent at the DUP’s Brexit strategy was a major factor, with party rank-and-file laying some of the blame for the emergence of an Irish Sea border at her door.

Traditionalists from the party’s religious fundamentalist wing also harboured concerns over positions Mrs Foster had taken on some social issues.

Mrs Foster was back at her desk on Thursday as she co-chaired a meeting of the Stormont Executive.