Tory ex-NI Secretary Villiers insists £1bn DUP deal 'will help both sides'
A former Secretary of State has defended the Government's £1 billion deal with the DUP, claiming the money "will help both sides of the divide".
Theresa Villiare, who served as Northern Ireland Secretary between 2012 and 2016, also claimed it was wrong to characterise the DUP as "extreme".
Theresa May is reliant on the support of the DUP's 10 MPs after losing the Tories' Commons majority in a disastrous general election.
Ms Villiers insisted the two parties, who have agreed a 'confidence and supply' arrangement, would find common ground despite key differences.
Writing in the Sunday Express, she said: "Neither same-sex marriage nor abortion feature in the deal agreed by Downing Street and they are free-vote matters in Westminster.
"It is wrong to characterise the DUP as extreme because of their Christian beliefs. For example, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, leader of the Christian Democratic Union Party, recently voted against same-sex marriage yet no one would describe her as extreme."
Ms Villiers claimed the £1bn deal was simply the "latest in a line of such financial arrangements" from both Labour and Conservative administrations that recognised Northern Ireland "faces unique difficulties".
She said the arrangement with Arlene Foster's party would not prevent the Government from being even-handed in its efforts to restore power-sharing at Stormont.
"The Conservatives are committed to the Good Friday Agreement and its successors, and to governing in the interests of the whole community in Northern Ireland," she added.
Her comments came after a senior Cabinet figure denied the £1bn deal amounted to a "bung".
Environment Secretary Michael Gove insisted the money did not amount to a "partisan deal".
Tory backbencher Heidi Allen, who has already expressed "distaste" at the Conservatives using public money "to garner political control", warned that her party had become "too inward-looking" and had "forgotten the purpose".
But Mr Gove insisted a deal was needed to ensure a "secure and stable" Government and highlighted Northern Ireland's unique problems, dealing with the Troubles and needing investment in mental health and infrastructure.
Told the confidence and supply deal was a bung on BBC One's Andrew Marr Show, he said: "I think that's unfair to the people of Northern Ireland and I think it's also unfair to the way in which, during this negotiation, decisions were taken in the interests of everyone in the United Kingdom.
"Bung is, the implication is... it implies this money is somehow going to the DUP on their own as if it were a partisan deal. It's not. It's about strengthening the whole United Kingdom by helping people in one of its most vulnerable areas."
The Tories have now scrapped manifesto pledges to end the triple-lock pensions and to means-test the winter fuel allowance for pensioners, proposals the DUP was opposed to. "It's absolutely right that we should, after a general election in which we didn't secure a majority, that we should have an opportunity to review how we help the most vulnerable in our society," Mr Gove said.