PM was absolutely right to visit Northern Ireland, says Bradley

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The Northern Ireland Secretary has defended the Prime Minister’s intervention in ill-fated talks to save powersharing after criticism that her arrival proved a distraction.

Karen Bradley insisted it was right that Theresa May visited Northern Ireland on Monday.

Mrs Bradley also appeared to suggest Mrs May’s tour of the Bombardier aircraft factory in Belfast, prior to her visit to meet the politicians at Stormont, was the primary reason for the visit.

Theresa May during a visit to the Bombardier factory in Belfast (Charles McQuillan/PA)
Theresa May during a visit to the Bombardier factory in Belfast (Charles McQuillan/PA)

DUP leader Arlene Foster said the visit acted as a “distraction”, while party colleague Simon Hamilton said it disrupted progress that was being made.

A mooted deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein to restore powersharing after a 13-month impasse fell apart only 48 hours later, amid an acrimonious blame game between the two main parties.

Making her latest statement on the Stormont meltdown after touring a shopping centre in Belfast, Mrs Bradley said: “The Prime Minister is the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and it is absolutely right that she should come and visit Northern Ireland.”

The Secretary of State was asked twice about the Prime Minister’s intervention in the talks and on both occasions she instead focused on her trip to Bombardier’s factory floor.

“Quite rightly she came to visit a great business in Northern Ireland, a big employer, a business that we want to see thrive and grow and really dedicate itself to Northern Ireland, and that’s what the Prime Minister was here to do,” she said.

As well as meeting the local parties at Stormont House on Monday, Mrs May also held talks with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar when the pair discussed the Brexit negotiations.

Commenting on the state of the talks, Mrs Bradley said she would make a statement to the House of Commons on Tuesday on the Government’s next moves.

She expressed hope a deal could still be salvaged and said she would consider “all options” over the weekend.

“This has been a difficult week, I am not going to make any pretence of that,” she said.

“We have worked extraordinarily hard to do our very best to enable an executive to be formed and I still think that can be done.”

The Taoiseach has said the basis for an agreement was in place before the process collapsed on Wednesday.

“I am really disappointed that the talks collapsed in the last couple of days,” Mr Varadkar told RTE.

“We certainly aren’t giving up, we believe the two major parties were very close to an agreement and the basis for an agreement was in place and I hope that both parties will reflect upon that in the coming days.”

Mr Varadkar added: “The only way forward for Northern Ireland is powersharing.”

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