The DUP has proven instrumental in helping to deliver the result of the 2016 referendum, leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg told guests at a DUP fundraising dinner.
The European Research Group chairman also riffed on a quote from Margaret Thatcher when he declared that Northern Ireland was as “British as Somerset”.
Conservative backbencher Mr Rees-Mogg was invited to attend the event at the Tullyglass Hotel in Ballymena, hosted by DUP MPs Ian Paisley, Sammy Wilson and Paul Girvan.
Political donor Arron Banks was also among the guests at the event on Thursday evening, as was Bernie Smyth of anti-abortion campaign group Precious Life.
East Antrim MP Mr Wilson said Mr Rees-Mogg had been “very complimentary” about the role the DUP had played in the Brexit process.
He told the News Letter: “He also talked about the strong relationship we have with the ERG group and the importance of our votes and our influence, and how many of his own members were taking the lead from us on the withdrawal agreement.”
Mr Rees-Mogg’s attendance at the event was questioned by the NI Conservatives, with party chairman Alan Dunlop describing it as an “odd alliance”.
The only elected Tory in Northern Ireland, Councillor David Harding, said he would expect Mr Rees-Mogg to have supported his own party, rather than another.
“Obviously, as a Conservative, I would expect members of Parliament for the Conservative Party would support their own party,” Mr Harding told the Press Association.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the chairman of the party in Northern Ireland wasn’t going to have a word with Jacob Rees-Mogg.”
Speaking to the assembled media outside the hotel, Mr Rees-Mogg defended his attendance at the event.
When asked by a journalist if it was appropriate for him to attend the event, given Mr Paisley’s recent parliamentary suspension, the Tory MP dismissed the question as “a silly thing to say”.
He added: “His constituents had the opportunity to have a recall vote and they decided not to use it.
“He is a democratically elected member of parliament in this constituency. He belongs to a party that is supporting the Conservatives and maintaining the Conservative government.”
Mr Wilson also dismissed the criticism of Mr Rees-Mogg’s attendance as “churlish”, adding: “We want to cement the strong relationship with those who have been so supportive of us.
“He came to talk about the Brexit issue. We are allies and share exactly the same views on Brexit. He made the point that he often agrees with me more than some of his own party members.”
Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson spoke of his delight at being invited to the dinner and said he was pleased to see the developing relationship between the DUP and Brexiteers within the Tory Party.
“It can only be good for unionism,” he said.
“Mr Rees-Mogg made reference to John Major’s comments in the formative years of the peace process, when he said the UK had no selfish or strategic interest in NI.
“He distanced himself from those comments and made clear that he as a member of Conservative and Unionist Party did have a strategic interest in NI and that his party should as well.
“He also made clear that if Brexit is delivered it will be because of the DUP.”
The DUP has been involved in a confidence and supply pact with the minority Tory administration since 2017.
Mr Rees-Mogg is not the first Conservative MP to headline a DUP event. Last November, former foreign secretary Boris Johnson addressed the DUP’s conference.