NI Conservatives' disquiet over DUP love-in to be raised with party HQ

Secretary of State James Brokenshire at last week's DUP reception in Birmingham

THERE is growing disquiet among Tory activists in Northern Ireland over the party's increasingly cosy relationship with the DUP.

The concerns of rank and file NI Conservative members are to be raised formally at a forthcoming board meeting at Conservative Party HQ in London.

One NI Conservative councillor has said he acknowledges the need for additional support at Westminster but is unhappy with the emerging informal coalition between the Tories and DUP.

Causeway Coast and Glens councillor David Harding said: "I fully understand the pragmatic political realities but I'm genuinely concerned that the nature of the DUP's political aspirations, and its views on social issues in particular, are not fully understood within Conservative Party headquarters."

A significant number of activists are said to have voiced misgivings about last week's DUP 'champagne reception' at the Tory conference in Birmingham and plans by Secretary of State James Brokenshire to attend a party fundraiser later this month alongside First Minister Arlene Foster.

They maintain that the DUP is an opposition party and that Conservatives in Britain would not welcome a similar alliance with UKIP.

The Irish News revealed on Wednesday that Mr Brokenshire had pulled out of the £30-a-head business breakfast following criticism from SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.

The concern of the NI Conservatives centres on a growing level of co-operation between Westminster's largest party and its Stormont counterpart. The Tories' comparatively slim 16-seat Westminster majority means they may be forced to rely on the support of DUP MPs in the future.

At last week's reception in Birmingham DUP leader Arlene Foster acknowledged that there were "some synergies" between the two parties and earlier this week Sammy Wilson signalled his party's support for Theresa May's plans for grammar school reforms.

The East Antrim MP urged the prime minister to ignore the "barrage of criticism" aimed at her desire to roll out a new generation of selective schools.

On Wednesday DUP MPs backed the Conservatives in a Westminster vote on the Brexit negotiations.

But the concerns of the NI Conservatives about the two parties' increasingly close relationship are to be formally raised by regional chairman Alan Dunlop, at the party's next board meeting on October 31.

Tory commentator John Strafford said it was "totally wrong" for the a Conservative minister to address a DUP reception

Leading Tory commentator John Strafford, who was central in establishing the Conservatives' regional arm in the late 1980s, told The Irish News he was "very happy" for the DUP to support Tory policy but insisted they were an "opposition party".

"When you're in government with a majority then they (the DUP) are real opposition and should be treated as such, which is why I believe it would wholly inappropriate for a Conservative government minister to go to a DUP fundraiser," he said.

"I'm not surprised James Brokenshire pulled out, though in his defence he's fairly new to the job and perhaps doesn't understand all the nuances that there are in Northern Ireland."

Mr Strafford said he was "very uncomfortable" with Mr Brokenshire speaking at last week's DUP reception in Birmingham and said it was "totally wrong" for other parties to hold events at the Conservative conference.

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