Belfast Telegraph

Nesbitt's austerity jibe at DUP over its Champagne reception for Tories

By Noel McAdam

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt castigated the DUP for hosting a Champagne reception at the Conservative annual conference today.

Responding to a no-holds-barred attack on his party by DUP leader Arlene Foster, Mr Nesbitt said it was clear there was "no austerity" for the First Minister and her party.

He said the DUP had lambasted the Government for its austerity policies and public spending cuts for years - but was now providing Conservatives with champers.

And he challenged Mrs Foster to provide any evidence that further Ulster Unionist members were about to defect to her party.

"This is what the DUP do - they distract," Mr Nesbitt said.

"She is hosting a Champagne reception at the Conservative Party conference - the party they have been castigating for years for its austerity policies. No austerity for Mrs Foster and the DUP."

Mrs Foster, who is hosting the DUP-sponsored event after a breakfast-time speech, also came under fire from the UUP in the Assembly yesterday.

Former UUP deputy leader Danny Kennedy asked Mrs Foster at question time: "When she is swilling Champagne at the Conservative Party conference will she at least try to ensure that any future arrangements for border controls are not simply created at Great Britain's ports and airports?"

Mrs Foster said she wanted to assure the member that non-alcoholic drinks will also be available at the reception "in case he wants to come along", to which the DUP's Mervyn Storey shouted: "He was not invited."

Referring to the UUP's former election pact with the Conservatives, Mrs Foster went on: "That is true, and that is part of the problem - we are listening to jilted lovers and their reaction to the way in which they deal with the Conservative Party now."

She renewed her attack after arguing the UUP had been reduced to the worst results in its history in May's Assembly election and argued there was an increasing impression the party had "lost its way" and did not seem to have any core beliefs.

"A significant number of UUP members have approached me in the last few months wanting to join with us," Mrs Foster also claimed in a weekend speech.

But Mr Nesbitt said yesterday: "We are still the largest membership party in Northern Ireland and I am signing new membership applications every week."

And defending his party's decision to go into Opposition, he said: "We are not going to be there to be the whipping boys for the larger parties and have money siphoned off from our departments."

He also told BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show: "Look at our policy documents, we did not just produce a manifesto but a further eight documents producing a vision for Northern Ireland and issues that are important to Northern Ireland."

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