Northern Ireland leader Arlene Foster announces resignation

Arlene Foster will step down as Northern Ireland’s First Minister at the end of June, bowing to pressure from members of Democratic Unionist Party.

Arlene Foster's position became untenable after many Democratic Unionist Party lawmakers signed a letter of no-confidence in her [File: Phil Noble/Reuters]

Northern Ireland’s First Minister has announced her resignation after party members mounted a push to remove her over her handling of the fallout from Brexit and other issues.

Arlene Foster said she would step down as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) on May 28 and as first minister at the end of June.

Foster said on Wednesday it had been “the privilege of my life” to serve the people of Northern Ireland.

“I have sought to lead the party and Northern Ireland away from division and towards a better path,” she said in a televised statement.

Foster’s position became untenable after many DUP legislators signed a letter of no-confidence in her.

The move against Foster, who has led the largest pro-British party since 2015, is the latest sign of how the UK’s economic split from the European Union at the end of 2020 has shaken the political balance in Northern Ireland, a part of the UK where some people identify as British and some as Irish.

Post-Brexit trade rules have imposed customs and border checks on some goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

The arrangement was designed to avoid checks between Northern Ireland and Ireland, an EU member, because an open Irish border has helped underpin the peace process that ended decades of violence in Northern Ireland.

The new arrangements have angered Northern Ireland’s British unionists, who say the new checks amount to a border in the Irish Sea and weaken ties with the rest of the UK.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson thanked Foster for her “dedication to the people of Northern Ireland over many years”.

“She will continue to play a vital role as First Minister until June and I hope that she stays in public service for years to come,” he said in a tweet.

Foster’s announcement adds to instability in the UK province, where angry young pro-British loyalists have rioted over the perceived growing power of Irish nationalists and post-Brexit trade barriers with the rest of the UK.

Tensions over the new rules were a contributing factor to a week of street violence in Northern Ireland cities earlier this month that saw youths pelt police with bricks, fireworks and petrol bombs.

Foster has called on the EU and the UK to scrap the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has imposed trade barriers that led to some supermarket shortages and a number of British companies ceasing deliveries to the region.

While the European Union has said it will not consider scrapping the Protocol, some party members have demanded a harder line.

Foster and other prominent DUP politicians are facing the wrath of party members for backing the divorce agreement that Boris Johnson struck with the EU.

Foster has also alienated sections of the conservative, Protestant party by taking a too-liberal stand on social issues.

Some are angry that Foster did not join most of her DUP colleagues in voting against a move to ban so-called “gay conversion” therapy last week in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Source: News Agencies