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DUP Leader Donaldson Steps Down Facing ‘Historical’ Charges

(Bloomberg) -- The leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Jeffrey Donaldson, stepped down Friday after being charged with “allegations of an historical nature,” according to his party.

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The DUP said in a statement that it has suspended Donaldson from membership, pending the outcome of the judicial process, and named Gavin Robinson as the interim party leader. The statement didn’t provide further details about the charges.

Earlier Friday, Donaldson, Northern Ireland’s longest-serving member of parliament, deleted his social media accounts.

Donaldson has been in parliament since 1997, and the leader of the DUP in the UK House of Commons since 2019. Earlier this year, Donaldson negotiated the return of his party to the region’s power-sharing institutions after a two-year boycott over post-Brexit trading rules.

With Robinson, a close ally of Donaldson, chosen to lead the party for now, there may not be an immediate threat to the power-sharing deal.

Even so, his resignation is a “huge shock,” said Jon Tonge, a professor of Irish politics at the University of Liverpool, adding that it could undermine the deal that revived Northern Ireland’s legislature, known as Stormont.

“It seems unlikely Jeffrey Donaldson can remain an MP, leaving a majority of DUP MPs who don’t support the deal that brought the DUP back into Stormont,” he said in an interview. “Therein lies a huge problem, because the architect of that deal is gone.”

Robinson is a lawyer who was chosen as the party’s deputy leader last year. He was elected to parliament in 2015, after serving as the mayor of Belfast.

Julian Smith, a former Northern Ireland secretary who has previously advised UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, posted a statement on X saying that Robinson “played a key role in a tough negotiation to restore powersharing & along with other DUP colleagues will chart a positive course for the future.”

Read more: How Irish Unity Got a Boost From Brexit, Demographics: QuickTake

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