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Lax security could have seen Theresa May knifed, says DUP's Foster

By Suzanne Breen

Arlene Foster has raised questions about the security at Theresa May's address to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester and said the Prime Minister "could have been stabbed".

The DUP leader was present yesterday when Mrs May was interrupted by a comedian who handed her a P45 unemployment notice, and she later lost her voice and coughed through sections of her speech.

Mrs Foster said she believed the Prime Minister had handled the situation "very professionally", but said the incident raised serious concerns about security at the event.

Comedian Simon Brodkin is known for his high-profile pranks, but Mrs Foster said the incident dramatically highlighted the ease of access a malicious protester would have had to the Prime Minister.

The DUP leader thought Mrs May performed strongly during a tough day.

"The distraction from the protester was certainly not of her making and I thought she handled it incredibly well," she said.

"Confronted with someone who comes up and tries to reach you on stage - she could have been stabbed for goodness sake.

"Where was the security around all of that?

"There are questions that have to be answered there.

"I thought she dealt with it very well - took a step back and then continued to deliver her speech."

Mrs Foster said the incident showed how alarmingly close a protester could get to the Prime Minister and that someone who wished her harm "could have attacked her... could have had a weapon".

"It could have been very bad".

The DUP leader believed Mrs May "held herself very well together and came back and made some jokes and dealt with it and carried on".

On the Prime Minister's coughing and hoarseness, she added: "Most of us have been in a position where we've lost our voice from time to time. (Most) of us have had a cold in the past."

Mrs Foster and Sinn Fein's Northern Ireland leader Michelle O'Neill shared a platform at the Ulster fry breakfast event at the Tory conference on Tuesday.

They clashed after Mrs O'Neill said "the North isn't British" and Mrs Foster replied: "I don't want this to turn into a row, but Northern Ireland is British."

DUP sources said the exchange of words had set back progress at talks to restore power-sharing at Stormont, which until then had been going well.

The DUP held an event at the conference on Tuesday night at which the party's post-election position of power at Westminster was evident.

Around 300 people attended this year, compared to 70 last year.

Among those present were Deputy Prime Minister Damian Green, Brexit Secretary David Davies, Conservative chief whip Gavin Williamson and party chairman Patrick McLoughlin.

Speaking at the fringe event, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said his party's 'confidence and supply' arrangement with the Tories wasn't a temporary arrangement.

The North Belfast MP admitted that the DUP would disagree with the Tories on occasions in the House of Commons.

But he said the deal between the two parties was strong and would last for the duration of parliament.

Mrs O'Neill yesterday accused the DUP of "handing a blank cheque to the Tories to continue their austerity policies and the destruction of public services in the North".

She said locally elected ministers were best placed to deliver public services.

"We want a sustainable Executive in place to be the bulwark against Tory cuts and austerity," she said.

"But the DUP's actions in handing the Tories a blank cheque to continue their destruction of the health service and the welfare state will make that task all the more difficult."

"No party should be supporting or acquiescing to Tory austerity cuts to the detriment of our public services.

"We should be demanding an end to these cuts in order to protect the interests of the people we are all elected to represent."

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