Arlene Foster. Photo: Facebook/Arlene Foster
LONDON: The leader of Northern Ireland was fighting Wednesday to keep her job as members of her party tried to oust her over her handling of the fallout from Brexit and other issues.
Northern Ireland Assembly lawmakers from the Democratic Unionist Party have been asked to sign a letter of no-confidence in party leader Arlene Foster. It is unclear how many have signed, and the DUP said it would not comment on internal party matters.
The move against Foster, who has led the party since 2015, is the latest sign of how Britain’s economic split from the European Union at the end of 2020 has shaken the political balance in Northern Ireland, a part of the U.K. 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 U.K. 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.
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 and other prominent DUP politicians are facing the wrath of party members for backing the divorce agreement that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson struck with the EU.
Foster also has 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 “gay conversion” therapy last week in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Foster downplayed the party’s internal turmoil on Tuesday, saying “stories on leadership come up from time to time, and it’s one of those times.”
But former DUP adviser Timothy Cairns said a leadership contest was nearly inevitable and Foster would be the “greatest political survivor in the history of UK politics” if she managed to keep her job.