Northern Ireland leader faces party revolt over Brexit fallout

Arlene Foster has faced mounting criticism over her handling of the Northern Ireland Protocol

In her statement, Arlene Foster confirmed that she will step down as leader of the DUP on 28 May and will finish up as first minister at the end of June.

Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster talks during a television interview outside the Stormont Parliament building in Belfast, Northern Ireland, December 30, 2020.

On Tuesday evening it was reported that the letter stated that the signatories no longer had confidence in "Mrs Foster or the leadership", which has been interpreted as an attempt to also remove Lord Dodds as the party's deputy.

'It's important that we lift our eyes and continue the work of rolling out of the restrictions, deal with the Northern Ireland Protocol'.

Responding to reports of internal party unrest, Mrs Foster said: 'Stories on leadership come up from time to time, and it's one of those times.

The crisis risks collapsing Northern Ireland's five-party administration, a fragile achievement of the 1998 Good Friday peace accord that sought lasting compromise following three decades of sectarian bloodshed that left 3,700 dead.

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.

Foster resisted compromise on the terms of Britain's exit from the European Union when her party wielded huge power in propping up the government of former British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Foster led the Northern Ireland executive alongside the IRA-linked party Sinn Fein, though the relationship was often rocky. It remained suspended for nearly three years amid a rift between British unionist and Irish nationalist parties over cultural and political issues, including the status of the Irish language.

But former DUP adviser Timothy Cairns said a leadership contest was almost inevitable and Foster would be the "greatest political survivor in the history of United Kingdom politics" if she managed to keep her job.

I understand the misogynistic criticisms that female public figures have to take and sadly it's the same for all women in public life.

Foster's replacement, to be selected by the DUP, is likely to take a strong line against post-Brexit trade agreements.

Foster urged young, working-class people and particularly women to get involved in politics, saying her election as leader of the DUP "broke a glass ceiling".

She said that "these stories come up from time to time" and she meant to "deal with it and move on".