Bradley declines to say how Stormont will be heard on Brexit if devolution fails

Updated: 

The Government has declined to outline how Northern Ireland's voice will be heard in Brexit negotiations if last ditch talks to save Stormont fail.

Secretary of State Karen Bradley was pressed on the issue as she appeared before a Westminster committee examining the impact that the UK's exit from the EU will have on the island of Ireland.

Mrs Bradley told members of the Lords European Select Committee it was vital devolution was restored to enable an executive to participate in Brexit structures such as the Joint Ministerial Committee alongside the Scottish and Welsh administrations.

But she would not be drawn when asked by Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Suttie whether the Government would find a way of letting politicians from the various parties contribute to bodies like the JMC even if devolution does not return.

Stormont talks
A meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee meeting in Whitehall, London to discuss plans for leaving the EU (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Mrs Bradley said her sole focus and energy was on making a success of the latest round of powersharing talks which start on Wednesday.

"It would be wrong for me to start speculating on what might happen as a consequence of other things while my energies are focused on that," she said.

The Secretary of State said it was important that executive ministers took their seats on bodies such as the JMC.

"It is vital for the whole community - nationalist and unionist - that those voices are heard and they are heard properly in the way that the Scottish government is represented and the Welsh government is represented on those bodies," she said.

"Getting the Northern Ireland executive up in place needs to be done to make sure Northern Ireland's voice is heard and heard loud and clear."

Stormont talks
Traffic crossing the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in the village of Bridgend, Co Donegal (Brian Lawless/PA)

Earlier, Mrs Bradley said she appreciated the challenges the Irish border presented when it came to striking the final Brexit deal.

She highlighted that there were more border crossings in Ireland than there were on the EU's eastern frontier and acknowledged the need for complementary regulations in certain sectors, such as agri-food and energy.

"There are fields where the border goes through it," she said.

"If we are talking about agriculture production it simply isn't tenable to have different rules for one side of the field to the other side of the field and we are pragmatic about that."