In a statement issued last night, the 62-year-old, who previously served as the DUP’s Westminster leader, said that he had intended to step back whenever the “next internal election cycle had occurred” after being given a peerage.
He added that under the party’s election rules, peers did not qualify for leadership positions and it would therefore be “incongruous and inappropriate” to continue in post.
Following the news that as many as three-quarters of the DUP’s Stormont assembly members and four of its MPs had signed a letter of no confidence in Mrs Foster it was reported that those behind the putsch had also been seeking Lord Dodds’s resignation as part of a clean break.
The announcement came just hours after Lord Morrow, the party chairman, announced that the contest to replace both Mrs Foster and Lord Dodds would take place on May 14.
Their successors would be elected by just a few dozen assembly members, MPs and peers, under the party’s rulebook.
The contest is likely to have far-reaching repercussions for Northern Ireland, with ministers in Whitehall increasingly concerned that Mrs Foster’s successor could pose significant problems for the Northern Ireland Protocol and the future of the power-sharing agreement.
Edwin Poots, Northern Ireland’s agricultural minister, is the hardline favourite, having been a vocal opponent of post-Brexit trading arrangements in the province.
His rival, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP’s incumbent Westminster leader, is seen as the moderate candidate, and is likely to maintain Mrs Foster’s determination to prevent a return to the more sectarian, fundamentlist approach of the past.