Jacob Rees-Mogg presses ahead with appearance at DUP fundraiser despite criticism from NI Tories
A FORMER Tory election candidate has criticised Jacob Rees-Mogg's decision to press ahead with plans to appear at a DUP fundraiser despite deep concern among party colleagues in the north.
Mr Rees-Mogg is set to speak at a DUP-organised event in Ballymena's Tullyglass Hotel on Thursday January 31 but members of the Northern Ireland Conservatives are unhappy about the arch-Brexiteer's involvement.
One leading Northern Ireland Tory said it was "exceedingly disappointing" that the head of the European Research Group had not cancelled the engagement with a rival party.
Former Stormont election candidate Roger Lomas said while he understood Mr Rees-Mogg had built "personal relationships" with the DUP at Westminster, he was unhappy that the North East Somerset MP had yet to accept an invitation to meet members of the Conservatives' regional arm.
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"It is exceedingly disappointing that colleagues are coming over here to attend DUP events while they have not yet had the courtesy to attend events organised by the local Conservative Party that seek to promote non-sectarian politics," he told The Irish News.
"Indeed, with senior colleagues like this, one doesn't really need political opponents."
Mr Lomas, who stressed that he was speaking in a personal capacity, likened Mr Rees-Mogg's Ballymena engagement to the Tories in Scotland inviting SNP MPs to speak at events.
"You can only imagine how Ruth Davidson would react to that," he said.
Promotional material has previously billed the "evening in conversation with Jacob Rees-Mogg" as being hosted by the DUP North Antrim, East Antrim and South Antrim Associations and MPs Ian Paisley, Sammy Wilson and Paul Girvan.
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The £25 ticket includes a "cooked buffet supper".
A DUP spokesman confirmed that next Thursday evening's event was organised by a number of the party's local associations.
"The party holds a significant number of events over the year but understandably not all of them generate as much interest or publicity as this particular event in given the general political cicumstances," the spokesman said.
Mr Rees-Mogg's Conservative colleague Peter Bone is due to speak at another DUP fundraiser next month.
The Irish News recently revealed that the Tory MP for Wellingborough in Northamptonshire was unaware the event in Co Down was a fundraiser when he accepted an invitation to speak from Strangford MP Jim Shannon.
Last year, a Conservative councillor said environment minister Michael Gove apologised for attending a DUP dinner at the Tullyglass hotel, saying he was unaware it was a party fundraiser.
In a statement issued earlier this month, Northern Ireland Conservatives' chairman Alan Dunlop reluctantly acknowledged that Mr Rees-Mogg was "free to speak to anyone".
He said the ERG head would be aware that a Tory party convention prevented him from speaking in support of rival political parties.
"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," he said.
Mr Dunlop said he had extended Mr Rees-Mogg an invitation "for a cup of tea" on behalf of Conservatives in the north. When asked last night if the ERG leader had accepted, there was no response.