Former DUP leader Arlene Foster has voiced her shock at Sir Jeffrey Donaldson's resignation as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

The veteran politician stepped down last Friday morning after being charged with historical sex offences. Mr. Donaldson has said he will be strenuously contesting the charges.

Mrs. Foster told this newspaper: “I’m shocked by the news."

The DUP said on Friday that Sir Jeffrey had been charged with “allegations of a historical nature” and that he would be stepping down as leader.

His exit from the role comes 26 years after he dramatically walked out of the Northern Ireland peace talks on Good Friday 1998.

The sudden resignation also occurred weeks after one of the other most significant decisions of his career when he chose to bring the DUP back to powersharing.

Sir Jeffrey, who is the longest-serving MP in Northern Ireland, became DUP leader in July, 2021, following the resignation of Edwin Poots.

He had originally put his name forward to become leader after Mrs. Foster was ousted following internal party unrest, but was narrowly defeated by Mr. Poots in the DUP’s first-ever leadership election months earlier.

Sir Jeffrey, who had been a senior member of the Ulster Unionists’ negotiating delegation, led a walkout of the 1998 peace talks after opposing the early release of Republican and Loyalist prisoners.

Alongside Mrs. Foster, the pair had been part of a tight-knit group dubbed the 'baby barristers' who opposed the Good Friday Agreement, the release of paramilitary prisoners, and the direction in which then-UUP leader Mr. Trimble was taking the party.