Northern Ireland news

James Brokenshire: Parties have 'weeks' to agree power-sharing deal

Secretary of State James Brokenshire has warned the parties have just weeks to restore power-sharing. Picture by Niall Carson, Press Association

THE north's parties must reach an agreement to restore power-sharing within weeks or face a budget set by Westminster, the Secretary of State has warned.

Speaking to a meeting of senior business leaders last night, James Brokenshire said in the absence of a deal a 2017-18 budget would have to be agreed this autumn.

And he warned the north was inching towards direct rule.

"If things don't change we are on a glide path to greater and greater UK government intervention," he said.

He added: "I have been clear with the parties that they must come together and reach agreement in the short window of time that remains".

Mr Brokenshire spoke of his confidence that agreement can be reached, adding "I believe we can change course".

"This can be achieved with political leadership and with support of the people of Northern Ireland - including communities and businesses," he said.

However, Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy said Mr Brokenshire was partly to blame for the political impasse.

"James Brokenshire's time would be better spent implementing the aspects of the agreements for which he has responsibility and acting with 'rigorous impartiality’ than threatening the talks process," he said.

"The approach of successive Tory governments in playing fast and loose with the agreements has contributed to the collapse of the executive.

"They are part of the problem and (must) act urgently to fully honor and implement their commitments and agreements." 

Mr Brokenshire told the business banquet at Queen's University, Belfast, that the north had been successful in attracting foreign investment.

But he added that businesses faced serious challenges, including the impact of Brexit.

Under the government's proposals put before the European Union, around 80 per cent of businesses in the north would be exempt from customs processes, he said.

Mr Brokenshire added that arrangements should also be put in place to ensure the remaining fifth of businesses do not have to deal with physical border checks.

He also said his government wanted a new customs arrangement with the EU which would remove "the need for a UK-EU customs border".

He added: "The government is absolutely committed to ensuring the border remains open to allow for the normal everyday interactions between people on either side".

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