Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has confirmed he will run to become the next leader of the DUP.

The Lagan Valley MP is not expected to be opposed following a bruising party leadership contest last month.

In a statement on Monday evening, Sir Jeffrey confirmed he had submitted his nomination papers.

He spoke of optimism for the future while recognising the challenges which face Northern Ireland today.

People take part in a Loyalist protest in Newtownards, County Down, against the Northern Ireland Protocol (Brian Lawless/PA)

Sir Jeffrey called for unity to oppose the Northern Ireland Protocol and vowed to make the UK Government “recognise the need to take decisive action”.

“Make no mistake, this is the number one issue facing our country, our people and our place within the United Kingdom,” he said.

“If elected, I will ensure that the Government doesn’t just listen, but recognises the need to take decisive action to deal quickly with the protocol.

“A failure to act will undoubtedly have consequences for the stability of our political institutions and the prosperity of our economy.”

Earlier, First Minister Paul Givan said Sir Jeffrey will have his full support if he becomes leader of the DUP.

First Minister Paul Givan visit to PIPS
First Minister Paul Givan arrives for a visit to the PIPS Charity, north Belfast, in his first public engagement since taking office (Liam McBurney/PA)

Sir Jeffrey called for the DUP to unite.

It comes following a turbulent two months for the DUP that saw former leader Arlene Foster resign after an internal heave against her and her successor Edwin Poots follow suit after he was also fatally weakened by a party revolt.

His resignation on Thursday night came after just three weeks in the post.

It was prompted by his decision to press ahead with reconstituting the Stormont Executive alongside Sinn Fein, despite a significant majority of his MPs and MLAs being vociferously opposed to the move.

Sir Jeffrey said: “We need to restore confidence and faith in our party and to work with other unionists of a like mind to broaden the appeal of unionism and secure the Union for the future.

“We need to deliver tangible results for the people who have put their faith in us and that also means building bridges across our divided communities and developing what a shared future means for everyone in Northern Ireland regardless of their background or belief.

“I believe that if I am elected leader, I can help the party deliver on these issues and put the Democratic Unionist Party on the path to victory at next year’s election.”

Nominations for the DUP leadership will close at noon on Tuesday.

The next leader will be ratified by the DUP’s central executive committee on Saturday.

Edwin Poots meets Micheal Martin
Paul Givan with former DUP leader Edwin Poots (Brian Lawless/PA)

It is understood that Mr Givan has been urged to resign as First Minister when a new leader is in place.

Once Mr Givan resigns, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill will also be removed from her post, triggering a seven-day period during which new office holders must be nominated or a fresh Assembly election will be called.

Sinn Fein Finance Minister Conor Murphy said his party has no demands before renominating a deputy First Minister.

Ulster politics
Finance Minister Conor Murphy (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Murphy described the DUP as “being at a crossroads”.

“They have to decide whether they want to be in a working Executive with the rest of us on the basis that they agreed to as a party – they signed up to this – or they want to frustrate things and prevent things, and create a very difficult working arrangement and ultimately threaten the future of the institutions,” he told BBC Radio Ulster.

“We have a lot to be getting on with, we have a pandemic that is still active, we need to see that out, we have huge economic challenges ahead of us, we have public services that have been starved by years of austerity cuts and we have a responsibility on behalf of the whole of society to deliver on these issues.”

Mr Murphy denied his party had made additional demands over Irish language legislation last week to nominate Ms O’Neill as deputy First Minister.

He said the party was “staying faithful” to the New Decade New Approach deal.

“We have said we are not pushing for anything else, we want to just see the things that were agreed under NDNA implemented in the way they were agreed to,” he added.

Sir Jeffrey narrowly lost to Mr Poots in the first leadership contest in the DUP’s history.

Chastened by that bruising campaign, the party hierarchy’s preference is for an uncontested appointment this time round, though it remains to be seen whether Sir Jeffrey will face any challengers.

Democratic Unionist Party meet to ratify new leader
DUP member Paul Bell announces his resignation, due to the treatment of Arlene Foster, from the DUP party at the Crown Plaza Hotel, Belfast (Brian Lawless/PA)

On Monday, Paul Bell, a member of the DUP in Co Fermanagh, who dramatically announced his intention to resign from the party over the treatment of Mrs Foster, indicated he will remain in anticipation of Sir Jeffrey becoming party leader and First Minister.

He also told UTV that he wants Mrs Foster to play a “major role” in the party again.

During the last campaign Sir Jeffrey vowed to quit as an MP in Westminster to return to the Assembly and take up the role of First Minister.

If that were to happen, it would mean a Westminster by-election in Lagan Valley, a seat held by Sir Jeffrey since 1997.

One possibility is that he could seek to replace Mrs Foster as the MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone when she steps down.

However, with the DUP currently in such turmoil there are doubts whether the party would want to voluntarily trigger a by-election in Lagan Valley any time soon.

Sir Jeffrey’s commanding 19,000-vote majority in Lagan Valley in the 2017 general election was trimmed to 6,000 votes at the 2019 poll following a surge in support for the Alliance Party.

Another option could see Sir Jeffrey wait until just before the next Assembly election, scheduled in May 2022, before he resigns his parliamentary seat.

In that scenario he might appoint a temporary First Minister to fill the role in the interim.