BORIS Johnson has been accused of bungling his first visit to Northern Ireland as Prime Minister after holding a private dinner with the DUP a day before meeting the other parties.

Sinn Fein said Mr Johnson’s “mollycoddling” of Arlene Foster’s party, whose 10 MPs keep the Tories in power at Westminster, made his claims of impartiality “laughable”.

The SDLP said the “cosy relationship” could undermine the peace process.

The criticisms followed Mr Johnson meeting Ms Foster and other senior DUP figures on Tuesday night at a luxury hotel on the outskirts of Belfast, before holding a series of meeting with all five parties at Stormont to discuss Brexit and restoring devolution yesterday morning.

Mr Johnson said the focus had been on reviving the power-sharing government in the region, which fell apart in January 2017 after disputes between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

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Downing Street said “there now needed to be serious and intense engagement to get this done”.

Mr Johnson denied his dinner with the DUP showed bias towards one side.

He said: “It’s all there in the Good Friday Agreement, we believe in complete impartiality and that’s what we are going to observe. But the crucial thing is to get this Stormont government up and running again.”

However Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said the DUP’s confidence and supply deal with the Tories in the Commons had “poisoned the groundwater” at Stormont, and Mr Johnson must not be a DUP “gopher”.

After her meeting Mr Johnson, she said: “He tells us he will act with absolute impartiality, we have told him that nobody believes that.

“Nobody believes that because there are no grounds to believe there is any kind of impartiality, much less strict impartiality.”

She added: “He asked for our advice and we have strongly advised him that to make progress here he needs to ensure that he is not the DUP’s gopher, he needs to stop mollycoddling them, he needs to spell out the realities of life to them and put pressure on his unionist colleagues to ensure we can land on an equitable and sustainable agreement.”

SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon said she believed Mr Johnson had no understanding of the issues facing Northern Ireland concerning Brexit and restoring devolution.

She said she had told him he needed to stop “pandering to the DUP”, adding his “wining and dining” of Ms Foster’s party had set the wrong tone for the visit.

She said: “It sends a message that he has a cosy relationship with one party here in Northern Ireland and that’s damaging to our peace process.”

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Ms Foster, who attended the dinner with DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds and party whip Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, rejected criticism of the confidence and supply deal, which came with a £1bn boost in public spending.

She said: “You would think to hear some people that it was some bad thing that had been visited upon the people of Northern Ireland. We have delivered an extra billion pounds for the people of Northern Ireland, which they wouldn’t otherwise have if it were not for the relationship between ourselves and the current government.”

Responding to Sinn Fein’s remarks, she said: “I don’t feel mollycoddled at all. It is highly pejorative and actually quite offensive when the Prime Minister of the UK comes to this country and that is the sort of reaction he gets from Sinn Fein.”

She also said Mr Johnson was not even “entertaining” Sinn Fein’s demand for a referendum on Irish unification in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

She dismissed a warning from Irish PM Leo Varadkar that no-deal could lead to a border poll as “project fear mark two from the Taoiseach”.

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said if Mr Johnson had a plan for Brexit, “he disguised it well” and the “real test of impartiality” would come when he had to apply “pressure” to the DUP.

David Frost, Mr Johnson’s most senior EU adviser, will tell his counterparts in Brussels today and tomorrow to repeat the PM’s warning that the UK will leave on October 31 without a deal unless the Irish backstop is abolished and the withdrawal agreement reopened.

A former ambassador to Denmark and chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, Mr Frost will meet officials from the European Commission and Michael Barnier’s negotiating team,

It also emerged that Mr Johnson has yet to appoint a Scotland spokesperson in the Lords after moving the previous holder, Lord Ian Duncan, to business and Northern Ireland last week.

Labour peer Lord Foulkes said it was “insulting to Scotland and the Lords”.

Mr Johnson faces the loss of an MP in today’s Brecon and Radnorshire by-election, where a LibDem win is expected to cut his majority to one.

A new YouGov poll for the Times on Westminster voting intention for the Times put the Tories on 32 per cent under Mr Johnson, Labour on 22%, the LibDems on 19%, and the Brexit party on 13% and the Greens on 8%.

The Scottish sample of around 180 people put the SNP on 42%, the Tories on 18%, the LibDems on 15%, the Brexit party on 12% and Labour fifth on 11%.