Northern Ireland news

Tory HQ silent on Jacob Rees-Mogg attending DUP fundraiser

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg
Brendan Hughes

THE Conservative Party has remained silent on leading party Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg's plans to take part in a fundraiser for the DUP.

The prominent backbencher is set to speak at an event this month organised by DUP North Antrim MP Ian Paisley.

Conservative Party members in Northern Ireland have criticised the decision, given that they plan to stand against DUP candidates in May's council elections.

It is the latest in a series of DUP events held in the north which have been attended by senior Tories, such as defence secretary Gavin Williamson and environment secretary Michael Gove.

Read more: Audit Office issues guidance to councils over DUP event payments

British prime minister Theresa May's minority government is propped up by a confidence-and-supply deal with the DUP, which sees its 10 MPs support the Conservatives on key Commons votes.

The pact following 2017's Westminister election was worth an £1bn extra for Northern Ireland, of which around half has been provided so far.

But the DUP has clashed with Mrs May over her Brexit plans – leading to questions over the deal's future.

In a letter to Frank Shivers, former deputy chairman of the NI Conservatives, Mr Rees-Mogg did not respond to an invitation to fundraise for the local Conservative Party.

Mr Rees-Mogg said: "As you are aware, I am visiting Northern Ireland in January for a dinner with the Democratic Unionist Party.

"As we are currently working closely with the DUP in parliament I am happy to do a fundraiser for them.

"I wish you every success with you future campaigning."

The correspondence was sent in November and was disclosed in yesterday's News Letter.

Mr Shivers told the newspaper it was "disrespectful" for senior party colleagues to be involved in DUP fundraisers while "we're relying on our members giving contributions".

He said he was "extremely disappointed by fellow Conservatives" visiting Northern Ireland and "raising funds for our electoral competitors".

NI Conservative members have urged party chairman Brandon Lewis to investigate Mr Rees-Mogg's involvement in the DUP fundraiser.

Mr Rees-Mogg did not respond yesterday to requests for a comment. The Conservative Party's headquarters also declined to comment.

In a statement yesterday, chairman of the NI Conservatives Alan Dunlop said there is a "clear convention" within the party "not to speak in support of rival political parties".

He praised Mr Rees-Mogg as a "highly respected member of the party", but added: "Sadly on occasions, often in an honest defence of their principle political views, politicians find themselves making odd alliances and standing elements of their own political logic on its head. They make themselves look foolish when they do so.

"We will extend understanding to our colleague Jacob on this occasion and hope that when he visits he will accept our invitation for a cup of tea so that we can discuss with him the important political issues facing Northern Ireland in 2019 in detail."

DUP MP Jim Shannon – who plans to have Peter Bone, another senior Tory Brexiteer, at a DUP event in his Strangford constituency in February – defended the attendance of senior Tories at DUP fundraisers.

He told the News Letter his event will split the money raised evenly between the DUP and Elim Missions.

Mr Shannon said the party has also previously reached out to others such as Labour MPs Kate Hoey and Stephen Pound as part of "building relationships" at Westminster.

Read more: Audit Office issues guidance to councils over DUP event payments

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