Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, 61, has stepped down as leader of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) after being arrested and charged by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) on Thursday, March 28.

A statement from the DUP on Friday said: "The Party Chairman has received a letter from Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP confirming that he has been charged with allegations of an historical nature and indicating that he is stepping down as Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party with immediate effect.

“In accordance with the Party Rules, the Party Officers have suspended Mr. Donaldson from membership, pending the outcome of a judicial process.

“The Party Officers have this morning unanimously appointed Mr. Gavin Robinson MP as the Interim Party Leader."

The PSNI said that on Thursday, March 28, its detectives "arrested and charged a 61-year-old man for non-recent sexual offences.

"A 57-year-old woman was also arrested and charged at the time for aiding and abetting additional offences.

"Both are due to appear before Newry Magistrates Court on 24 April.

"As is usual procedure, all charges will be reviewed by the Public Prosecution Service."

As is usual, the PSNI did not name the people who had been arrested.

Donaldson, a former member of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), became head of the DUP in 2021 following Edwin Poots' short-lived tenure. He has been an MP for Lagan Valley since 1997.

Donaldson’s social media accounts were deactivated on Thursday night.

BBC News reported on Friday that it understands Donaldson has been charged with rape and multiple other sexual offenses, charges that he will 'strenuously contest.'

Northern Ireland's leading politicians have responded to what is being deemed a political earthquake.

First Minister of Northern Ireland Michelle O'Neill said on Friday: “My priority is to continue to provide the leadership the public expect and deserve, and to ensure the four-party Executive coalition delivers for the whole of our community now and in the future. 

"The DUP Leader has resigned after being charged with serious offences. 

“This is now a matter for the criminal justice system.”

Doug Beattie, head of Northern Ireland's UUP,  said: “The leadership of the DUP is a matter for the DUP.

"Although the circumstances are of concern and in the public interest, we are mindful that this is now a criminal investigation and it would not be proper to comment further. In all matters of this nature, we must first and foremost consider all victims and what impact media and public attention will have on them.

"The Ulster Unionist Party will be making no further comment.”

Jim Allister, head of Nrothern Ireland's Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) party, said: "Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s departure in these very inauspicious and concerning circumstances, after he has done the damage of surrendering his party to the Protocol, has very wide ramifications for unionism.

"Like any individual he must be afforded the protection of innocent until proven guilty.

"It must not be forgotten there is a family at the heart of this matter. When the leader of unionism finds himself in this position, the damage is not limited to his party but impacts unionism as a whole. Unionism was already divided by the Donaldson Deal.

"This needs to be a cathartic moment for unionism. Unionism must steady itself and cut adrift the Donaldson folly of accepting an Irish Sea border and rule by EU law."