Sir Jeffrey Donaldson resigns as Democratic Unionist party leader

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Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has resigned as leader of the Democratic Unionist party (DUP), again throwing Northern Ireland politics into turmoil.

Donaldson announced on Friday he was stepping down in an abrupt move that stunned his party and jolted the British and Irish governments.

Earlier on Friday he had deleted his X, Instagram and LinkedIn accounts. Senior DUP figures called an emergency meeting.

The Lagan Valley MP, 61, had served three years as DUP leader and recently bolstered his authority by agreeing a deal with Downing Street that revived the Stormont executive and assembly. He had been expected to lead his party into the general election.

The DUP’s deputy leader is the East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson. Its leader at Stormont is the deputy first minister, Emma Little-Pengelly.

Donaldson has a reputation as a unionist hardliner and a soft-spoken pragmatist, which has earned grudging respect in London, Dublin and Washington.

Born into a Presbyterian family in the County Down fishing village of Kilkeel, he served in the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) and became a full-time political activist from the age of 18.

In the 1980s he ran the constituency office of Enoch Powell, the former Conservative MP who had defected to the Ulster Unionist party (UUP), and then worked for the thrn UUP leader, James Molyneaux.

In 1997 Donaldson, a married father of two and socially conservative Orange Order member, inherited Molyneaux’s seat in Lagan Valley, just outside Belfast, and had held it since. He opposed the 1998 Good Friday agreement, seeing it as a sellout to the IRA, and in 2003 joined the DUP.

Polished media performances softened Donaldson’s image and he supported the DUP’s eventual acceptance of the Good Friday agreement. He also backed the party’s support for Brexit.

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