Arlene Foster says she has “bigger things to do”, like dealing with the pandemic, but she has never faced a bigger challenge to her leadership.
With three-quarters of her Stormont Assembly party calling for a contest and DUP constituency associations expressing concern, political observers say it’s “unsurvivable”.
With many colleagues believing she hasn’t hit back hard enough over what they regard as Boris Johnson‘s “betrayal”, her days as leader could be numbered.
Sam McBride, political editor of the Belfast News Letter, said: “The numbers are so overwhelming, Arlene’s Foster position is so precarious, it really just comes down to whether or not she decides to fight this… or throw in the towel.
“In raw political terms, it’s completely unsurvivable,” he added.
On the surface, it appears Mrs Foster will attempt to weather the storm, telling reporters in Belfast: “We’ll just deal with it and move on.”
But there’s open revolt in her party and the first minister can only hope she has more support than anyone who throws their hat in the ring.
Mrs Foster didn’t lead the charge on leaving the European Union but found herself fronting her party’s position on Brexit, much like Theresa May did.
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Boris Johnson famously told her party conference in Belfast that “no British prime minister could or should” accept a trade border in the Irish Sea.
When he conceded on that trade border to secure a Brexit deal, many asked how the DUP had failed to see it coming.
Under pressure from the electorate, less than a year from an Assembly election, Mrs Foster could become the DUP’s scapegoat for that judgement call.
She has had a turbulent five years as DUP leader and first minister of Northern Ireland, the power-sharing government having collapsed for three of those years.
But her party achieved the unthinkable in 2017, when Theresa May failed to win an outright majority, leaving the DUP holding the balance of power at Westminster.
With every decision, be it Brexit or contentious social issues like same-sex marriage and abortion, she has found herself leading a party of two halves.
Arlene Foster is more pragmatic than her predecessors but the ideological wing has decided where it wants to be positioned ahead of next year’s election.