DUP MP declines to say which Tory leadership contender he backs

A DUP MP has declined to say who his party backs to become the next leader of the Conservative Party.

As the race to find the next Tory leader narrows to Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, Gavin Robinson refused to say which man he would prefer to become the next prime minister.

The DUP is set to remain a powerful influence at Westminster, with the leading Conservative Party relying on their 10 MPs to pass votes.

DUP conference 2018
DUP conference 2018

Mr Johnson addressed the DUP annual party conference in Belfast last November.

However, Mr Robinson told the BBC’s Sunday Politics show that his party has good relationships with most of the candidates.

“You’d be amazed at how many people in the House of Commons want to build a relationship with us (the DUP), and we do have good relationships with almost all of the candidates that were seeking to be on the paper to succeed as Conservative leader, and the same is true of Jeremy Hunt,” he said.

Mr Johnson earlier this year voted for Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit Withdrawal Deal – which the DUP opposed – despite earlier saying he would not back it.

“It clearly contradicted what he had said previously where he had given clear indications that he doesn’t like the backstop and indeed he has reiterated those since, I think there was a quest within the Conservative ranks to get this done in the belief that even if you were to vote for the Withdrawal Agreement, you could change it afterwards,” Mr Robinson said.

“We saw the flaw in that approach at the time so we didn’t back the Withdrawal Agreement because we believed once the structures of the agreement were affirmed, it would be very difficult to change those structures. Boris Johnson now accepts that’s the right case.

Tory leadership race
Tory leadership race

“I think he recognises our concerns, he sees that a border down the Irish Sea – as does Jeremy Hunt – both recognise that sort of a border, that impediment to trade between one part of the United Kingdom and another, or indeed the insistence from the European Union they should have any say in interrupting the internal affairs of this country is wrong.

“So the position they have adopted through this campaign, and previously, is positive from a unionist perspective.”

Turning to a future deal under which the UK will leave the EU, Mr Robinson said his party will continue to use its influence to press for the protection of the union.

“They are a long way from delivering a deal and if we are involved in discussions with them and advocating our position to them, we’ll be making sure that no outcome is going to be detrimental to this union we cherish,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Robinson said the wait to find out who will be the next prime minister will not stop the ongoing political talks in Northern Ireland to restore powersharing government.

“We approach the talks positively, we want to see a resolution and a re establishment of the institutions at Stormont, we think Northern Ireland as a society benefits from having a democratically elected, locally accountable decision making process,” he said.

“We want to see that now and when a deal is right, a deal will be done.

“The engagement you could say starts and stops, but there is a level of productivity now where I think the engagement is sincere.

“That doesn’t mean that all the issues are resolved, and you’ll have heard other commentary which suggests they are not, but the willingness I think is there and the prize to have a restoration of the Executive is there to be achieved provided you get an outcome which is fair, which is proportionate, which is balanced.”