UK Politics

Cameron plays down 'wooing' claims after DUP drinks party

David Cameron meeting DUP leader Peter Robinson and deputy Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuiness in Downing Street in June 2013 Image copyright AFP
Image caption David Cameron meeting DUP leader Peter Robinson and deputy Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuiness in Downing Street in June 2013

David Cameron has said it is "right to talk" to other political parties amid claims he is "wooing" the Democratic Unionists (DUP) in case he needs their support after the general election.

The prime minister hosted drinks for eight DUP MPs in No 10 last week.

DUP sources told the Guardian the PM was "seriously interested" in future relations amid speculation he may rely on their backing in a hung Parliament.

The PM said the event was an "offshoot" of a meeting about terror compensation.

Should the Conservatives emerge as the largest party after the 2015 election but fall short of an overall majority, one option is for them to try to form a minority government if they can garner enough support.

'Lot of wooing'

In such a scenario, it has been suggested that the Tories would ask for backing from supportive parties - possibly including the DUP - on the basis of a "supply and confidence agreement".

This would allow a government to get key legislation, such as the Budget and Queen's Speech, through Parliament.

The DUP is currently the fourth largest party in Parliament but relations with the Conservatives - who aligned themselves with the Ulster Unionists at the 2010 election - have not always been good.

According to the Guardian, the drinks in the Downing Street garden were held on the same evening that Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was arrested by police investigating the disappearance of Jean McConville.

A DUP source told the newspaper that "it would be fair to say that a lot of wooing is going on".

"You don't invite eight parliamentarians to such a reception and have the children playing around unless you are seriously interested," they added.

'Big fight'

Asked about the apparently informal nature of the gathering, Mr Cameron said it was common for his children to be playing in the No 10 garden.

"It is only right the prime minister talks to other groups and parties in Parliament," he told BBC Radio 5live.

"I was having a meeting with leading DUPs to discuss trying to win from the Libyans some compensation for the fact that Libyan semtex, given to them by Colonel Gaddafi, is still being used in Northern Ireland.

"The drinks we had were an offshoot from that meeting."

The prime minister has said he believes the Conservatives can win an overall majority in next May's poll but he acknowledges he has a "big fight" on his hands to do so.

In 2010, the Conservatives ruled out the prospect of a minority government, arguing that it would be too unstable, and opened coalition talks with the Liberal Democrats.

Conservative MPs have said they would explicitly need to back a formal coalition with any other party this time, including a repeat of the current arrangement with the Liberal Democrats.