Newly appointed Northern Ireland First Minister Paul Givan has been told he will be expected to resign as part of the DUP leadership transition.
Party officers do not want to see Mr Givan leave his post as joint head of the devolved executive before the next leader is in place and ready to appoint a successor.
DUP party officers have set a date of June 26th to elect a new leader, it was announced on Saturday.
A departure prior to that would add further instability to the already fragile powersharing institutions, as it would set the clock ticking on a seven-day deadline to nominate both a new First Minister and renominate Michelle O’Neill as Sinn Féin’s deputy First Minister.
If that deadline is missed, the UK Government would be under a legal obligation to call a snap election at the Assembly.
The current frontrunner for the DUP leadership is Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.
It is understood party officers have had a number of discussions with Mr Givan about his future in the wake of Thursday night’s dramatic resignation of party leader Edwin Poots, who is his long-time friend and constituency colleague.
The DUP is craving stability after a turbulent two months that has seen former leader Arlene Foster resign after an internal heave against her and Mr 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 Féin, despite a significant majority of his MPs and MLAs being vociferously opposed to the move.
Anger at a UK Government pledge to grant Sinn Féin a key concession on Irish language laws was behind the internal opposition to Mr Poots’ decision to nominate a First Minister to lead the administration alongside the republican party.
— Michelle O’Neill (@moneillsf) June 17, 2021
Mr Donaldson narrowly lost to Mr Poots in last month’s DUP leadership contest to replace Mrs Foster.
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 Mr Donaldson, if he does run, will face any challengers.
That will soon become clear, after DUP party officers set a deadline of 12 noon this Tuesday for nominations in the leadership contest to be submitted.
A meeting will be held next week, on June 26th, at which the next DUP leader will be selected.
Speaking on Saturday, party chairman Lord Morrow said: “Following a meeting of the party officers in Belfast today the following decisions were taken.
“The party officers have set the date of June 26th as the date for a meeting to elect a new leader.
“In accordance with the constitution and rules of the Democratic Unionist Party only party members, who are also members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the House of Commons are entitled to vote for the leader or deputy leader. Details have been sent to all eligible voters.”
During the last campaign Mr Donaldson 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 Mr Donaldson 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.
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.
On Friday, deputy First Minister Ms O’Neill said she remained committed to working with Mr Givan for as long as he remained in the role of First Minister.
She urged her partners in government to “get their act together” to ensure effective governance at Stormont.
Elsewhere, a rally against Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol in Newtownards on Friday heard calls for the DUP not to nominate a new First Minister until the contentious Irish Sea trading arrangements are abandoned.
Several hundred people turned out at the protest rally, where the leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice party, Jim Allister, launched a stinging attack on Mr Poots and called on the DUP to effectively collapse Stormont unless the Protocol is abandoned.
He told the crowd: “What needs to be done in Stormont is the new DUP leader needs to find a backbone, and he needs to resign the First Minister.
“He needs to say to the British Prime Minister, there will be no First Minister so long as there is a Protocol.”