Empey slams claim May’s talks visit was a ‘distraction’

Lord Empey wondered if the DUP has 'lost the plot altogether'
Lord Empey wondered if the DUP has 'lost the plot altogether'

Former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Empey has slammed the DUP after the party suggested Theresa May’s intervention in the Stormont talks process was a “distraction”.

Mrs May and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar travelled to Belfast on Monday hoping to push through a deal to end the 13-month political deadlock.

This direct intervention had fuelled speculation that an agreement was imminent, but DUP leader Arlene Foster warned that the parties still had “work to do” and described the visit as “a bit of a distraction”.

Following the collapse of the negotiations on Wednesday, DUP negotiator Simon Hamilton echoed these remarks and suggested the visit by the two prime ministers had hindered progress.

He added: “I don’t think it was entirely helpful in getting us to reach a successful conclusion.

“I am sure, as all prime ministers get advice from time to time they can take that advice or they can ignore that advice. Certainly, in our view it acted as a distraction.

“We had been unable to build on the progress we had been making at the end of last week.”

Yesterday, DUP MP Gregory Campbell made similar remarks, telling the News Letter the intervention had “only served to make the situation worse”.

“We had consistently warned that things were being pushed too far and too fast, and that a deal was not in fact imminent,” he added.

In the wake of these remarks, Lord Empey said: “I was shocked to hear the DUP say that the arrival of the prime minister of the United Kingdom into Belfast on Monday was ‘a distraction’.

“Has the DUP lost the plot altogether?

“How can any unionist say such a thing about our own PM, especially one that they have a written agreement with?”

In an interview on BBC’s Talkback programme yesterday, Mr Campbell refused to be drawn on whether his party had advised Mrs May against intervening in the talks process.

“It wouldn’t be our place to advise the prime minister to come or not to come,” he said.

“Let me put it like this. If people were saying to us, whether in Downing Street or anywhere else, ‘is a deal doable and is it going to be productive and helpful to come over’, we would say no.

“Not that it is unhelpful that you come, but it is unhelpful in getting a deal done,” he added.