NI secretary ‘working to understand’ concerns over withdrawal deal

Karen Bradley has said she is focused on persuading MPs to back the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement with just days until the crucial vote in the House of Commons.

The Northern Ireland Secretary made the comment on a visit to Belfast hours after Theresa May signalled that MPs could be given the power to decide whether the UK goes into a controversial Brexit backstop arrangement regarding the Irish border.

Mrs May indicated Parliament would choose between triggering the backstop or extending a transition period after the UK formally quits the EU.

The move is likely to be seen as a bid to bolster flagging support ahead of a crunch Commons vote on her EU withdrawal deal next Tuesday – a showdown the PM made clear she would not postpone.

When asked about this, Mrs Bradley said the whole cabinet are talking to MPs to attempt to address their concerns.

“We are all working, as cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister, with individual MPs to understand what their concerns are, because we all have had concerns and we have all worked to address those concerns,” she said.

“We are all working to understand those concerns and what can be done to mitigate those concerns and to give people comfort around them in the way that we have had comfort around them.

“But this ultimately comes down to a political decision – do you believe the risks of a worse case scenario have been mitigated in order that we can benefit from the rewards of leaving the European Union in an orderly way, in a way that respects the referendum result and gives us that brighter future?”

On Wednesday a group including business leaders, farmers and representatives from civic society travelled from Northern Ireland to Westminster.

Mrs Bradley urged their MPs to listen to their views on the deal.

“The businesses, the farmers and the civic society who came to Westminster from Northern Ireland yesterday were unanimous in their view that on leaving the European Union we should seize this deal, we should make the most of it and we should look forward to the future,” she said.

Democratic Unionist representatives have been firmly opposed to the Withdrawal Deal, sparking speculation their confidence and supply deal with the Conservatives is on shaky ground.

Mrs Bradley insisted she continues to work with the DUP as well as the other Northern Ireland parties in her role as Secretary of State.

“I work very closely with DUP members of parliament and MLAs in my role as Secretary of State as I do with MPs and MLAs from all parties,” she said.

“That is the role of the Secretary of State and I will continue to do that.”

Mrs Bradley also visited the new Primark store in Belfast city centre which is due to open on Saturday.

Primark’s former flagship store in the city was destroyed by a major fire in August.

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