Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has been formally elected leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.

He received the backing of 32 of the party’s 36-strong electoral college, comprising MPs and Assembly members.

The Lagan Valley MP was the only candidate but his leadership will have to be ratified by the party Executive next week.

Sir Jeffrey will be the fifth leader in the DUP’s 50-year history but its third in the space of 50 days.

Arlene Foster, who had led the DUP for five-and-a-half years, resigned at the end of April following a party revolt.

Her successor Edwin Poots survived only 21 days in the post, amid deep divisions in Northern Ireland’s largest political party.

Some argued Mrs Foster had not taken a tough enough line against the trade border in the Irish Sea.

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They subsequently felt Mr Poots should not have nominated a new First Minister while the Brexit Protocol remains.

Mr Poots, who defeated Sir Jeffrey for the job by 19-17 last month, did not attend the latest electoral college meeting.

Commenting on Edwin Poots’ absence from the meeting, Sir Jeffrey said he had “prior commitments” and was a “busy man” with ministerial duties.

He added: “Four of my colleagues decided not to vote today, not to vote in favour of my leadership and I respect that, I respect their right to do so.

“And my task, the challenge for me, is to win the confidence of all our past, including the four who decided not to vote today in my favour.”

Sir Jeffrey added: “Our priority… will be to right the wrong that has been done by the imposition of the Northern Ireland Protocol and to restore Northern Ireland’s place fully within the UK internal market.

“Northern Ireland is given the right under the Act of Union to trade freely with the rest of our own country and all that we ask if for that right to be restored, that we can trade freely with the rest of the United Kingdom and continue to trade with our neighbours.

“And there must be a solution to that. We need to find that solution,” he added.

He would not be drawn on if or when Paul Givan, the First Minister nominated by Edwin Poots, may be asked to step aside.