A motion of no confidence in Jeffrey Donaldson as a Member of Parliament has been withdrawn as he ponders his future within the Ulster Unionist Party.
Jeffrey Donaldson: Considering his future
The move comes after the hardline MP was narrowly defeated in a crucial vote by his party's 900-strong ruling council.
A motion of no confidence in him as the Lagan Valley MP, which came from some members of his constituency association, was withdrawn on Wednesday in the "interests of party unity".
UUP leader David Trimble narrowly fended off a challenge from party rebels, led by Mr Donaldson, who wanted the party to reject the recent British and Irish Joint Declaration.
Mr Trimble, who criticised some elements of the declaration, whilst noting that the party had not accepted the document as a whole, secured 54% of the vote at Monday's meeting. Mr Donaldson received 46%.
Mr Donaldson had said he would consider his position if he lost the vote and has been invited to join the hardline anti-Agreement Democratic Unionist Party.
However, said he wanted to wait until he had dealt with the no confidence motion before making any decision about his future.
He said the motion had
been withdrawn because his opponents did not believe it would be carried.
"I was prepared to fight this vote of no confidence because I am
absolutely convinced I would have won by a large majority," he said.
"I believe that the people behind this motion realised they had no chance of
winning and they backed down for that reason.
"If they truly had the courage of
their convictions they would have pressed ahead with it."
Mr Trimble appealed to Mr Donaldson and his supporters to stay in the party.
Speaking on Wednesday, in his first interview since the council meeting, Mr Trimble said his critics should accept the democratic decision and support party policy.
"To go in any other direction would be folly for themselves and for politics in Northern Ireland," he said on Wednesday.
"It's question of principle, it's a question of the democratic view, it's a question of accepting that."
He said there was a place for the Lagan Valley MP in the party, as he shared the party's objectives and hoped that differences "could be ironed out".
David Trimble has urged Mr Donaldson to remain in the party
Mr Donaldson has said he will not be rushed into making any hasty decisions but it is understood his 22-year association with the Ulster Unionist Party could be coming to an end.
However, it is unknown how many other members may leave the party with him.
On Tuesday, Mr Donaldson said he wanted to see a "realignment within unionism" and was "not interested in splinter groups".
Last month's joint declaration outlined plans to reduce troop numbers to 5,000 as part of an attempt to move the Northern Ireland political process forward.
The joint declaration included five annexes dealing with security normalisation, policing and justice, human rights and equality, on-the-run paramilitaries and mechanisms to verify and monitor any deal.
Northern Ireland's devolved administration was suspended last October amid allegations of IRA intelligence gathering in the Stormont government.
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