Northern Ireland

DUP-Tory deal not dead over Brexit, says Foster

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Media captionArlene Foster said the deal with the Conservatives is "still in existence"

Theresa May's support agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to keep her minority government in power is not dead, Arlene Foster has said.

The DUP entered a confidence-and-supply deal with the Conservatives in 2017.

But their relationship has become strained due to the DUP's opposition to the PM's draft Brexit withdrawal deal.

When asked by BBC News NI if the relationship was dying, Mrs Foster said no but a rethink was needed "in relation to this withdrawal agreement".

The DUP leader said the support deal is "very much still in existence".

Her party secured more than £1bn of extra funding for Northern Ireland from the government in exchange for crucial support in votes in Parliament from its 10 MPs.

Speaking on Wednesday, Mrs Foster warned that the arrangement is "not just about money" but also "making sure the union is secure".

'Deal not dying'

The tension between the parties has arisen due to the DUP's rejection of the so-called Brexit backstop in Mrs May's EU withdrawal agreement.

The backstop would allow the Irish border to remain frictionless in the event of the UK leaving the EU without securing an all-encompassing deal.

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Image caption Theresa May's Brexit withdrawal deal has been consistently criticised by the DUP

It is a last-resort position that would result in Northern Ireland staying aligned to some rules of the EU single market, with goods going into the region being checked to see if they met EU standards.

The DUP has repeatedly said it would not accept any extra Northern Ireland-only checks.

This week the DUP chose not to support the government on key votes on a number of amendments to its Finance Bill.

Instead, its 10 MPs abstained in the votes and supported one Labour Party amendment.

Asked at what point she would consider ending DUP's support for the government, Mrs Foster said: "We're not there yet."

Speaking about the confidence-and-supply arrangement, she added: "It's not dying but we need to see a rethink in relation to this withdrawal agreement.

"We need to see a better deal for Northern Ireland and a better deal for the United Kingdom."

'Outraged over Brexit'

Influential business groups in Northern Ireland have given their support to Mrs May's deal but they have been met with criticism from some DUP MPs.

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Media captionSammy Wilson: "The government had broken one of the fundamental agreements they had with us."

On Monday, Sammy Wilson accused businesspeople and farmers who supported the proposal of being government "puppets" who were "dancing to the government's tune".

Mrs Foster said on Wednesday that she hoped to speak those groups next week.

"If they want to meet me," she added.

Northern Ireland business representatives are due to meet the prime minister at Downing Street on Thursday.

The DUP leader said she met a businessman who employs 300 people and has a turnover of £70m who is "absolutely outraged" by the Brexit deal.

She said that there were many more like him who had "a clear view on the withdrawal agreement".

The BBC understands that the DUP have asked the NI Chamber of Commerce to facilitate a meeting with business organisations on Monday.

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