NORTH BELFAST MP Nigel Dodds has pulled out of the running to the next leader of the DUP.
The current deputy leader of the party was expected to be the front runner to succeed Peter Robinson is standing down in the coming weeks.
But this afternoon he has stunned colleagues by ruling himself for the top party job.
The former barrister says he would only put his name forward if he was an MLA as he believes he could not “devote the necessary day-to-day focus” while being an MP shuttling between Belfast and the House of Commons in London.
In a statement, Mr Dodds said: “Following Peter’s announcement that he was stepping down as leader and First Minister I have been giving much prayerful thought to my own position and what is in the best interests of the party.
“For a long time I have been consistent in my belief that, with devolution now firmly established in Northern Ireland, I would only put my name forward for leader if I was a member of the Stormont Assembly.
“I am previously on record as stating clearly my view about the disadvantage of attempting to lead a modern Northern Ireland party from Westminster when we now have devolved government.
“Indeed I have previously made my view known in discussions with senior colleagues.
“I have been humbled by the expressions of support from many quarters in recent days and therefore have taken time to reflect further.
“I remain of the view that being at Westminster means I would not be able to devote the necessary day to day focus and time to the role of leader and, at the same time, properly and fully carry out my duties and responsibilities in the House of Commons.
“The work and the opportunities for Northern Ireland at Westminster have already grown significantly and especially recently as a result of the DUP’s position in a House of Commons where the Government has such a small majority.
“That work and those opportunities are only set to increase over the course of the five years of this Parliamentary term.
“I am conscious too that my wife Diane is also fully committed in her work as an MEP.
“Whilst in other circumstances it would be natural and a great honour to lead the party, it would be wrong in my current circumstances to put my own personal standing above what I believe to be the long term best interests of the party and the people we serve.
“I believe that in the Assembly Arlene Foster is the leader that can take our party and Northern Ireland forward to an even better future.
“I will continue to fulfill my duties to the party as Deputy Leader and working together as part of a strong team of DUP representatives at every level we will continue to offer the best opportunity to advance the cause of unionism at Stormont and Westminster.”
It now leaves the door open for other candidates to throw their hats in the ring.
But Fermanagh MLA and Finance Minister Arlene Foster is the odds-on favourite to become the new First Minister when Peter Robinson steps down.
Now she has the backing of Mr Dodds to become the party leader.
Mr Robinson, 66, old has already announced that he is standing down as both First Minister and DUP leader.
He is also not running for the Assembly next year.