Belfast Telegraph

Boris Johnson visits Northern Ireland: DUP's Foster refuses to rule out extra confidence and supply cash

DUP Leader Arlene Foster during an interview with the BBC in while waiting for the arrival of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in front of Carson's statue at Stormont House in Belfast. Liam McBurney/PA Wire
DUP Leader Arlene Foster during an interview with the BBC in while waiting for the arrival of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in front of Carson's statue at Stormont House in Belfast. Liam McBurney/PA Wire

DUP leader Arlene Foster refused to say whether her party will ask for more money when reviewing their confidence and supply agreement with the Conservative Government.

The DUP entered into the arrangement with the Tories following the 2017 snap general election to prop up the Government in return for £1bn in extra funding for Northern Ireland. It is to be reviewed at the end of every parliamentary session.

Senior DUP figures met with the new Prime Minister Boris Johnson for dinner when he arrived in Northern Ireland last night ahead of talks with the five main political parties.

Upon arriving at Stormont, Boris Johnson said his priority is to restore devolution saying his government was impartial on Northern Ireland.

Speaking to the BBC, Arlene Foster said they discussed restoring devolution, delivering Brexit and strengthening the Union.

When asked whether the DUP will be seeking more money when reviewing their confidence and supply arrangement with the Conservatives, Mrs Foster refused to be drawn on the issue.

"The confidence and supply agreement is between the Conservative Party and the Democratic Unionist Party, it's not between individuals. We will of course review that agreement to see how it has been implemented and if we need to make changes to it at the end of this parliamentary term," she said.

"Really we're focused on restoring devolution, delivering Brexit and strengthening the Union... Obviously we'll talk about the confidence and supply agreement in the weeks and months to come, but those are the areas that we'll be focusing on so that we can deliver for the people of Northern Ireland."

When pressed on the financial issue, she said: "There's a lot of focus on the money that was put into Northern Ireland. That's what the £1bn was about.

"Delivering better broadband, better roads here, recognising the under-investment here as the result of years of violence and trouble, so that's what's important for Northern Ireland.

"We'll be focusing on the needs of the people in Northern Ireland when we come to talk to the Prime Minister about the next confidence and supply agreement."

Elsewhere, DUP chief whip Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the current chances of a no-deal Brexit were "significant".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Well I think given the response of the Irish government in particular who I believe are key to this issue of addressing UK concerns about the backstop, I think the prospect of a no-deal is significant."

Asked about the warnings of 40,000 job losses in Northern Ireland, he said that was at the "very high end of the scale" and he was not convinced a no-deal would result in that type of outcome.

He added: "We do recognise that no deal is not good in the short term for our economy in Northern Ireland and to be clear it's not something we're working towards.

"We've always been consistent in our approach on Brexit which is we want to see the UK leaving the EU with a deal, but the deal that's on the table at the moment is clearly unacceptable, not just to us, but to a majority on three occasions in the House of Commons."

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O'Neill has accused Boris Johnson of "playing fast and loose" with the peace process.

"I would remind him that he has a duty to act with rigorous impartiality... All we've heard from him in his first week in office is rhetoric, playing a game of chicken with the EU and bringing jeopardy onto us," she told BBC Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster.

"Brexit brings that much jeopardy to this island, it brings that much jeopardy to our economy. For our part we want to see a deal. We do not want a cliff-edge Brexit.

"We do not want to see our economy crash into the ground. We do not want our citizens denied rights - that's no a good platform to build and new and agreed Ireland. [Boris Johnson] has said he wants to bin the backstop.

"The EU has said that is not acceptable, they are not opening up the Withdrawal Agreement. Boris Johnson is playing fast and loose with our livelihoods and I'm going to make sure he hears that message loud and clear today."

Upon arriving at Stormont, Boris Johnson said his priority is to restore devolution.

He said: "Clearly the people in Northern Ireland have been without a government, without Stormont, for two years and six months so my prime focus this morning is to do everything I can to help that get up and running again because I think that's profoundly in the interests of people here, of all the citizens here in Northern Ireland."

On Brexit, Mr Johnson said: "The crucial thing to stress is, I obviously attach huge importance to the letter, spirit of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and will be insisting on that."

When asked how impartial he could be given the Tory links to the DUP and Tuesday nights private dinner, he said: "It's all there in the Good Friday Agreement. We believe in complete impartiality and that's what we are going to observe.

"But the crucial thing is to get this Stormont government up and running again."

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