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Thursday, 15 November 2018

Northern Ireland Secretary urges Conservative colleagues to get behind PM

Written by David Young

The Northern Ireland Secretary has urged Conservative party colleagues to back the Prime Minister, insisting "there is no better person" for the job.

Karen Bradley, a long-time ally of Theresa May, offered a stout defence of the under-pressure Tory leader after briefing business leaders in Belfast on the details of the draft Brexit deal.

"I support the Prime Minister - there is no better person to do this job," she said.

"I supported for her leadership in 2016 because this is a woman that gets the job done, this is a woman who has gone out and negotiated hard."

She called on MPs to vote in the "national interest" and back Ms May's deal, insisting people across the UK just wanted politicians to "get on with it".

Addressing the media after the meeting with the business figures, Ms Bradley (pictured) was pressed on whether the Government's confidence and supply deal with the DUP was now in real danger.

She declined to be drawn when asked if the £1 billion investment for the region that is part of the parliamentary agreement was also at risk.

"The confidence and supply is a matter for the chief whips of the two parties," she said.

Asked for her response to the DUP's angry reaction to the Brexit text, she added: "This is something for cool heads now.

"People need to understand this is the deal on the table - this is the deal that the 27 member states are prepared to sign up to."

Ms Bradley denied the Brexit deal was dead and also rejected the suggestion Northern Ireland had been sold out.

She said: "Northern Ireland will not be in the Single Market, it will not be in the Customs Union, it will be leaving along with the whole of the United Kingdom on the 29th of March next year."

Commenting on her discussions with business leaders, she added: "It's very clear from the conversations that I have just had that actually what businesses and people in Northern Ireland want is politicians to come together and do the right thing, think about the national interest and support the deal so we can leave the European Union on the 29th of March next year in a measured, organised, co-ordinated way that is right for the United Kingdom and the people of Northern Ireland."

In the press conference, the Conservative MP was asked if the events at Westminster resembled a "car crash".

"I wouldn't describe it that way at all," she replied. "I would describe it as a very difficult decision and Government takes difficult decisions and this is probably one of the most difficult decisions that Government faces."

She said: "It's not easy, nobody ever said this would be easy, but the Cabinet has decided and those people who served very, very well as secretaries of state and ministers who have decided they can't support the deal, well quite rightly collective responsibility requires them to support the deal and therefore they have to leave Government.

"But the majority of the Cabinet is behind it, the remaining members of the Cabinet are absolutely behind this deal and what we need to do now is get behind the Prime Minister and get that deal sorted in the November (European) Council."

Ms Bradley briefed members of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NI Chamber).

Afterwards John Healy, vice-president of NI Chamber, said: "It is clear that businesses recognise the huge efforts made by the Prime Minister and across Government to reach this milestone - and it is NI Chamber's opinion that any deal is better than no deal for business.

"However, with people's livelihoods and the future prospects for many companies in the balance, more time is required to deliberate the real-world implications of this agreement over the coming days.

"After two-and-a-half years of uncertainty, businesses need clarity and precision on the specific terms of trade they will face in the future, many of which are still to be agreed.

"The avoidance of sudden or multiple changes to trading conditions is crucial to business investment and confidence.

"Our members raised a number of questions to the Secretary of State, specifically around migration, VAT, the backstop - and any bureaucracy it may bring - whilst also seeking a guarantee from Government that businesses here will still have unfettered access to the rest of the UK.

"NI Chamber's priority is to now assess the implications of these proposals, working closely with members over the coming weeks."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) David Young / PA Wire.