James Brokenshire cancels DUP breakfast benefit amid concerns from nationalists
SECRETARY of State James Brokenshire has pulled out of a DUP fundraising event following criticism from nationalists.
The Tory MP, who spoke during last week's DUP 'champagne reception' at the Conservatives' conference in Birmingham, had been lined up to speak alongside First Minister Arlene Foster at a business breakfast in Lisburn on October 27.
The event, which is charging £300 for a table of 10, is being promoted as "an excellent opportunity to network with business and elected representatives."
Organiser and DUP councillor, Allan Ewart told The Irish News on Tuesday that Mr Brokenshire's name was on the invite and therefore the secretary of state was booked to speak.
But when concerns raised by SDLP leader Colum Eastwood about Mr Brokenshire's involvement in the DUP fundraiser were put to the Northern Ireland Office, a spokesman said he was "not attending this event".
Asked if Mr Brokenshire has pulled out of the event after his office was contacted by the Irish News, a spokesman declined to comment
Both DUP headquarters and Mr Ewart declined to comment further.
Mr Eastwood told The Irish News that he had "serious concerns" about Mr Brokenshire acting as a "hook" for DUP fundraiser, given that secretary of state was meant to be politically neutral in his dealings with the north's parties.
"Many will see this as another part of the ever closer relationship between the Tories and the DUP, following Arlene Foster’s champagne reception at the Conservative Party conference," he said.
"It’s clear that cosying up to the Tories is more important than standing up to those who continue to force the most severe austerity on vulnerable people in Northern Ireland."
The SDLP leader said that if a an informal Conservative/DUP coalition was emerging, then both parties should be honest about it and stop "taking the public for fools".
Relations between the DUP and Tories have been increasingly close in recent months, with both parties now fully backing a hard Brexit.
The support of the DUP's eight MPs could become crucial in some Westminster votes, as the government has a comparatively slim majority of 16.