General Election

Courtship of DUP looks to have begun at Balmoral Show

Theresa May and Secretary of State James Brokenshire meet DUP leader Arlene Foster at the Balmoral Show. It has been claimed that NI Conservatives were ordered to remove their rosettes 'for fear it would upset the DUP'. Picture by Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

A leading Northern Ireland Conservative has claimed party activists in the north and their counterparts in Britain are "furious" with Theresa May for courting support from the DUP.

Roger Lomas, who stood in West Tyrone in March's assembly election, also alleged that he and fellow NI Conservatives were told by Tory central office to remove party rosettes during the prime minister's visit to the Balmoral Show last month.

Mrs May flew into the north on May 15 for a brief surprise trip to the Maze site near Lisburn.

She was pictured meeting DUP leader Arlene Foster, who was also attending the final day of the annual agriculture event.

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At the time, Sinn Féin told The Irish News it was not made aware of the prime minister's visit but said the party was not surprised Mrs May "teamed up" with Mrs Foster.

According to Mr Lomas, he and other NI Conservatives who were alongside their party leader at Balmoral were ordered to remove their Tory rosettes "for fear it would upset the DUP".

He claimed the prime minister and Mrs Foster were likely to have discussed the possibility of DUP support for the Tories ahead of last week's election, in which the Conservatives failed to get a majority.

"The speed with which she turned to the DUP, one would think the groundwork had already been done," he said.

The Fermanagh and Tyrone Conservative Association chairman said the visit "looked like an endorsement of the DUP" by Mrs May.

Mr Lomas was scathing of the way the prime minister had sought DUP backing since the election result and predicted the relationship would last "between six weeks and six months".

"If this arrangement continues there won't be a Roman Catholic in England, Scotland or Wales that'll be voting Conservative next time around," he said.

"This isn't like getting into bed with the Ulster Unionists – she is hooking up with triumphalist, sectarian extremists who pretend to be modernising – we are not one bit happy."

The Stormont candidate, who received just 27 votes in March, said he and fellow activists were "furious" with Mrs May.

"We know that things were tight and that they might need the DUP but you don't invite them into the house and break out the family silver – you can have a working relationship with your neighbours with rubbing your family's face in it," Mr Lomas said.

"The DUP is not interested in bringing in national politics to Northern Ireland – they are reinforcing sectarian politics for a sectarian carve up."

Last year The Irish News reported how senior Tories vetoed a 2015 party election broadcast by the NI Conservatives because it was too hard on the DUP and Sinn Féin.

Former Secretary of State Theresa Villiers and spin doctor Lynton Crosby are understood to have been among those who blocked the three-minute film, which portrayed Stormont's two largest parties as clowns.

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