DUP leader Jeffery Donaldson has stepped down as he was charged with historic sex offences.

The Lagan Valley MP was reported to have deleted all of his social media accounts in the hours before the announcement on Friday.

The National: DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has accused the Irish Government of double standards over legacy (Liam McBurney/PA)

In a statement, the DUP 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.

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“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.”

A spokesperson for the Police Service of Northern Ireland said: "Detectives from the Police Service of Northern Ireland 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."

The shock announcement comes just weeks after Donaldson, 61, made the decision to bring the party back to powersharing in Northern Ireland.

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His leadership saw him steer the party’s two-year boycott of Northern Ireland’s political institutions in protest over post-Brexit trading arrangements.

After protracted negotiations, the DUP agreed to return to Stormont in February following the agreement of a new deal and a series of assurances around Northern Ireland’s constitutional position within the United Kingdom.

Donaldson, who has had an almost 40-year career in politics, became DUP leader in July 2021.

His career started with the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and in 1985, aged 22, he was the youngest person to be elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The 61-year-old’s relationship with former UUP leader David Trimble deteriorated when he led a walkout of the 1998 peace talks after opposing the early release of republican and loyalist prisoners.

He left the party and joined the DUP in January 2004.

He was recognised by the Queen in her 2016 Birthday Honours and was given a knighthood.