Arlene Foster's leadership of DUP could be coming to end

Arlene Foster's leadership of DUP could be coming to end”

Arlene Foster has announced her resignation as Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader and first minister of Northern Ireland.

Several DUP constituency associations have written letters expressing concern at Foster's decision to abstain from a recent Assembly vote on a ban of gay conversion therapy that did not incorporate a specific mention of protections for religious practices.

The announcement comes 24 hours after an sizeable internal heave against her by DUP politicians unhappy with her leadership.

Although Foster has repeatedly called on the European Union to scrap the protocol - something it says it will not do - some party figures have demanded an even harder line.

Her leadership of Northern Ireland was "the privilege of my life", she said.

If the scale of the rebellion is accurate, as reported by the Belfast News Letter, it would constitute more than two thirds of the party's representatives in Belfast and half of its members in Westminster.

Mrs Foster was due to meet Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis on Tuesday evening but that has been cancelled.

The party said its internal democratic electoral processes were a matter for its members and declined to make further public comment on Mrs Foster's future.

The DUP leader says these stories come up "from time to time".

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While this is normally seen as a rubber stamping exercise, the scale of the rebellion suggests that it could be used as an opportunity to oust her unless she steps down or agrees to a challenge.

Foster, who has led its largest pro-British party for more than five years, said in a statement that she would also step down as party leader on May 28.

"Stories on leadership come up from time to time, and it's one of those times, " she said.

Mrs Foster was elected as the first female leader of the DUP in December 2015, taking over from Peter Robinson.

However, sources later said that the meeting had merely been rescheduled for Thursday.

Foster initially downplayed suggestions that her leadership was under threat on Tuesday, telling the Associated Press that she had "bigger things to do" than engage with the conversation.

For some time there have been rumblings of discontent, but Mrs Foster's internal enemies have lacked the numbers, or the courage, to act against her.

The DUP is facing anger from the wider loyalist and unionist community for the introduction of an Irish Sea border.

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