Arlene Foster: What is next for the deposed DUP leader?

By Gareth Gordon
BBC News NI Political Correspondent

Arlene Foster leaving the Crown Plaza Hotel on the night her successor was officially ratified as DUP leaderImage source, REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Image caption,
Arlene Foster pictured on the night her successor was officially ratified as DUP leader

As she's about to leave one stage, Arlene Foster is eyeing another.

Defying her sometimes austere image she's begun to quote Sinatra - or rather his song That's Life.

"That's Life. That's what all the people say. You're riding high in April, shot down in May," go the lyrics.

Strictly speaking she was "shot down" in April but it's close enough to describe a downfall as sudden as it was brutal.

But the fact she can joke about it shows she's come to terms with what happened, if not forgiven the manner of it.

As Edwin Poots is discovering, there may be worse things than not leading the badly-fractured Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Upstairs in the grand ballroom of Belfast's Crowne Plaza Hotel last Thursday night, as he waited to be confirmed as Arlene Foster's successor, mutiny was in the air.

Elsewhere in the hotel she dined alone on salmon and wheaten bread, a ghost at the feast.

Image source, REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Image caption,
The moment Mrs Foster steps down as first minister, Edwin Poots has seven days to strike a deal with Sinn Féin

Then she emerged into the hotel foyer to join myself and Tracey Magee, political editor of UTV.

We weren't expecting her, though neither were we exactly surprised.

She wasn't hiding the fact she is bitterly disappointed.

But if it's possible to enjoy your own funeral that's what is happening to Arlene Foster.

State of flux

She eventually left us to go and vote.

Then like Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Nigel and Diane Dodds, Gregory Campbell, Gavin Robinson and Lord Willie Hay she went home before Mr Poots' speech began.

As she did so she flashed a "V-sign" for the cameras. For peace or for victory wasn't quite clear.

What Arlene Foster will do now is the subject of almost as much speculation as what her nemesis Edwin Poots will do, such is the state of flux unionism finds itself in.

At just 50 she's six years younger than him.

She says she has had offers but refuses to say what they are.

She'll almost certainly become a figurehead for the fight against online abuse of high profile women in politics.

Last Thursday her name was splashed across the UK press.

She has changed her Twitter name to @ArleneFosterUK taking with her the 95k people who followed her at @DUPleader which has become, fittingly, a parody account.

Baroness Foster?

A peerage is a distinct possibility.

It won't come now from the DUP. But could it come from Boris Johnson, the man she mistakenly trusted when he told her there would be no border down the Irish Sea.

She may feel he owes her that at least.

Image source, Arlene Foster/Facebook
Image caption,
Arlene Foster posted this pic of her first minister's briefcase on Monday

Could she even find herself back in elective politics via some overdue realignment of unionism?

It's unlikely, but after what happened to the DUP at the Crowne Plaza there no longer seems to be a home there for many more people than simply Arlene Foster alone.

If this is her farewell lap she's milking it to some effect.

And the moment she steps down as first minister, Edwin Poots has seven days to strike a deal with Sinn Féin which may be in the mood to extract maximum political advantage.

As Sinatra might say regrets, she's had a few.

But those who deposed her may yet have more.

Listen to the BBC Newscast interview with Arlene Foster on BBC Sounds.