The British government will remain committed to funding peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland regardless of Brexit, the prime minister has said. Theresa May made the pledge in a letter to reassure the DUP. It comes amidst strains in the relationship over the border backstop.
The DUP responded angrily when the Northern Ireland secretary said guaranteeing future peace funding could be difficult if Mrs. May's EU withdrawal agreement was voted down by MPs.
The party, and some Conservative MPs, are opposed to the backstop proposal for the border after Brexit in part because it would mean Northern Ireland being treated differently from the rest of the UK.
A wide range of proposals have been mooted by MPs, including making amendments to the backstop - an option rejected by the Irish government - or setting aside a full six days in Parliament before the March deadline to decide on a way forward.
However, the former chancellor George Osborne and shadow chancellor John McDonnell have both said delaying Brexit is now the likely option. Mr Obsorne told the BBC: At least that gives some space to explore whether there is an alternative deal on the table - I doubt there is but it's worth exploring - or indeed whether we need to resolve this through a referendum.
Earlier in January, the UK announced about £300m for future peace projects. The government funding will be given to Peace Plus as part of its unwavering commitment to uphold the hard-won peace in Northern Ireland after Brexit. That funding followed about £100m already earmarked by the EU.
Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley warned that without the legal mechanism provided by the EU withdrawal agreement, providing the cash could prove very difficult.
The DUP raised the matter with the prime minister, who has now reassured them in writing that she remains personally strongly committed to the peace funding.
She referred to it as an unequivocal commitment made in the withdrawal agreement and added that the UK remained committed whatever the outcome of Brexit.
In a letter to DUP leader Arlene Foster and her deputy Nigel Dodds, dated Monday 21 January, the prime minister wrote: In relation to a specific issue you raised of PEACE funding, I want to reassure you that I remain personally strongly committed to this and the government has emphasized its importance at every stage.
In the event of no deal, both the UK and the EU have categorically committed to protect funding for current programs through to 2020, as you rightly say in your letter.
I can also reassure you that whatever the outcome of Brexit, the UK will remain committed to contributing financially to support peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.
Mrs Foster thanked Mrs. May for her clarification, but repeated her party's criticism of the Northern Ireland secretary, describing Mrs Bradley's earlier comments casting doubt on the funding as foolish and irresponsible.
The new scheme is set to replace the current Peace scheme, which has been in operation since 1995, next year. It applies to Northern Ireland and the border counties of the Republic of Ireland - Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth.
Currently, Peace IV is operating, which focuses on children and young people, shared education, shared spaces and positive local relations. It is funded by the UK, Ireland and the EU.