The Prime Minister has not denied reports that he is “wooing” Peter Robinson’s party to be a potential future partner in Parliament.
Yesterday The Guardian carried a front page report that David Cameron had hosted a private drinks reception last week for the DUP’s eight MPs.
The paper said that the “lavish reception” at Downing Street had followed a meeting about securing compensation from Libya for that nation’s past support for the IRA.
The paper quoted a ‘senior DUP source’ as saying: “It would be fair to say that a lot of wooing is going on.”
The suggestion was that the DUP could agree a ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement with Mr Cameron in a hung parliament, supporting the Government in key votes, such as the budget, but not providing unqualified support or securing ministries.
Speaking to BBC Radio Five Live, Mr Cameron said when asked about the issue: “As for the [meeting with the] Democratic Unionists, I think it’s only right that the Prime Minister talks to other groups and parties in Parliament.
“I was having a meeting actually with some of the leading Democratic Unionists about the need to try and win from the Libyans some compensation for the fact that Libyan Semtex given by Colonel Gaddafi is still being used in Northern Ireland.
“The drinks that we had after that was an off-shoot from that meeting.”
A DUP spokesman said that the party had met Mr Cameron, at Peter Robinson’s request, to discuss compensation for victim’s of Libyan-IRA terrorism.
He said: “This meeting took place in Number 10 Downing Street on Wednesday April 30. The Prime Minister also kindly provided some hospitality for our MPs.
“As the fourth biggest party at Westminster and being very active in the work of Parliament, we maintain good relationships with all the parties in Westminster and meet with them both formally and informally very regularly.”
At the time of the Libya meeting. Downing Street said in a statement that the Prime Minister had met Mr Robinson, Nigel Dodds and Jeffrey Donaldson.
Not so long since DUP savaged PM
Four years ago, in the run-up to the 2010 General Election, DUP rhetoric about ‘Tory cuts’ did not suggest that the two parties would ever cosy up politically.
However, the ferocity of the DUP’s attacks on Ulster Conservatives and Unionists - New Force (UCUNF) suggested it viewed the project as a potential threat, although UCUNF’s own ineptitude meant that never materialised. Current DUP attacks on the UUP are mild by comparison, suggesting Peter Robinson does not view Mike Nesbit as an immediate threat.
Sammy Wilson accused David Cameron of singling Northern Ireland out for “brutal cuts that would see nurses, teachers and classroom assistant put on the dole” while William McCrea claimed the Conservatives would “gut the block grant”. Mr McCrea, then in a close fight for his South Antrim seat, said the Conservative-UUP alliance “want to harm our community at the behest of their Tory pay-master”. Peter Robinson said: “The Tory and UUP plan to cut £200m out of the budget is unacceptable and must be opposed.”
A future DUP-Tory relationship is likely to be looser than UCUNF. But any relationship at all would illustrate the brutal pragmatism of politics.