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Brokenshire dashes hopes of special status for Northern Ireland

By Noel McAdam

The government has dashed nationalist hopes of a ‘special status’ for Northern Ireland as part of the Brexit deal.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire ruled out the prospect — which has been supported by Sinn Fein and the SDLP — insisting it was the “wrong approach”.

His rejection came just 24 hours after Sinn Fein claimed it would ensure that both the British and Irish governments will seek special designated status for the province.

The party’s new Stormont leader, Michelle O’Neill, also made clear her party will use the talks following the Assembly election on March 2 to push its case for special status.

And SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, who first demanded ‘special status’ in the early aftermath of last June’s referendum, said Mr Brokenshire would not be in a position to thwart the move when negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal begin.

“The SDLP has been doing the heavy lifting to secure special status for the North and to defend the will of our people,” he said.

At yesterday’s House of Commons Northern Ireland Question Time, the last before the March 2 election, Mr Brokenshire insisted: “The approach that we take is based on getting the best possible deal for all parts of the United Kingdom.

The Secretary of State added: “Yes, there will be some specific factors in Northern Ireland — we have talked about the border — but our approach is with that intent and focus. Therefore concepts of special status are the wrong approach. It is rather about looking at special factors and special circumstances and dealing with them effectively.”

He was responding to a question from the DUP’s Sammy Wilson, who said afterwards: “Given that Sinn Fein now intend to make this an election issue and a condition for the setting up of the Assembly after the election, I hope that those who voted to leave the EU — and those who, while voting to remain, now want the certainty of this issue being resolved — will use the election to thwart Sinn Fein’s anti unionist and pro EU agenda.”

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