Arlene Foster has today announced she is resigning as Northern Ireland First Minister and as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
Foster said in a statement this afternoon that she will step down on 28 May.
It comes after a letter calling for her to face a leadership challenge was yesterday signed by around 80 per cent of the DUP’s Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs).
Foster used her resignation letter to take a shot at Boris Johnson’s Brexit treaty and to say it could cause continuing tensions in Northern Ireland.
“The protocol being foisted upon Northern Ireland against the will of unionists has served to destabilise Northern Ireland in more recent times,” she said.
Some have said that Foster’s resignation could provide a threat to the Brexity treaty’s Northern Ireland Protocol, which has angered some of the country’s unionists.
The protocol, which sees Northern Ireland treated differently to the rest of the UK when it comes to the EU, was the catalyst for days of violence and rioting recently by a small section of Belfast’s unionists community.
The First Minister called for ongoing unity in the country.
“There are people in Northern Ireland with a British identity, others are Irish, others are Northern Irish, others are a mixture of all three and some are new and emerging,” she said.
“We must all learn to be generous to each other, live together and share this wonderful country The future of unionism and Northern Ireland will not be found in division, it will only be found in sharing this place we all are privileged to call home.”
Foster lost the confidence of her MLAs over her handling of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which she backed in January before later rowing back on it.
Hardline DUP MLAs in Stormont and MPs in Westminster have spoken out against the protocol and called for a campaign of resistance.
Some of the right of the party was also disappointed in her decision to abstain on a vote to ban gay conversion therapy.
Foster said it was “important to give space over the next few weeks for the Party Officers to make arrangements for the election of a new leader”.
“It has been the privilege of my life to serve the people of Northern Ireland as their First Minister and to represent my home constituency of Fermanagh/South Tyrone,” she said.
“As I prepare to depart the political stage it is my view that if Northern Ireland is to prosper then it will only do so built on the foundations of successful and durable devolution. That will require continued hard work and real determination and courage on all sides.”