Belfast Telegraph

Tories foot £20,000 bill for Foster's RAF flight home

By Noel McAdam

Theresa May has come under fire after it was disclosed the Conservatives spent £20,000 on an RAF plane to fly Arlene Foster back to Belfast after the DUP leader signed the £1bn deal to prop up her Government.

The Tories admitted they paid the bill for the military flight to get the former First Minister to Stormont for the ongoing talks last week.

Mrs May's party agreed to pick up the tab after being told the cost could not be met from the public purse.

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn criticised the Prime Minister.

"Theresa May has already given an extra £1bn to Northern Ireland to hang on to power and now it appears she gave a free RAF flight to Arlene Foster to seal the deal," he said.

"The Conservatives must come clean. Did they try and make the taxpayer foot the bill for this flight and how often does the Tory Party book RAF flights?"

Outgoing Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron also told the Mail on Sunday: "It is not for the PM to use the RAF as a personal taxi service to help prop up her Government with a dodgy deal."

A Conservative spokesman confirmed the party had paid for the flight but did not say how much it cost, and denied any wrongdoing. The Mail on Sunday and Sky News reported yesterday the bill amounted to £20,000. It was also reported that there were 38 commercial flights available, with tickets starting at £41.

The Tory spokesman said: "Arlene Foster was in London to conclude the signing of the confidence and supply agreement between the Conservative Party and the Democratic Unionist Party which will provide the UK with the stable government it needs at this critical time.

"The Conservative Party paid for a flight back to Belfast to allow her swiftly to resume talks on re-establishing a power-sharing Executive in Northern Ireland."

The DUP said: "For security and other operational reasons we do not comment on Mrs Foster's travel and transport arrangements."

However, the revelation is likely to deepen divisions in Tory ranks over the agreement with Mrs Foster's party.

Under the deal the Tories have scrapped manifesto pledges to end the pensions triple-lock and to means-test the winter fuel allowance for pensioners.

The DUP's Sammy Wilson also clashed with Mr Corbyn's number two, shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who had called the £1bn a "grubby bribe to the DUP to keep his party clinging on to office".

Mr Wilson asked if Mr McDonnell accepted that Labour "has a lot to tell us about grubby bribes in the form of letters to terrorists to get them off their murder charges and so on".

"What is grubby about money put into the infrastructure of Northern Ireland to promote jobs, or money going into the health service in Northern Ireland or the education system? What is grubby about that?" the East Antrim MP asked.

Mr McDonnell replied: "What I think is grubby - sorry, I thought he was sitting on the Government benches - what is grubby is that if we were to abide by the rules of our system, England would get an additional £59bn, Scotland £6bn and Wales £3bn."

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