Belfast Telegraph

Brexit will not be derailed by N Ireland's political chaos, says Brokenshire

Political chaos in Northern Ireland will not derail Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit timetable, Secretary of State James Brokenshire has said.

And with Sinn Fein urging a Stormont election be called on Monday, Mr Brokenshire warned the parties that divisive campaigns could hamper efforts to rebuild power sharing in the future.

"I should also stress that we are not delaying the (Brexit) timetable.

"We still remain absolutely committed to triggering the Article 50 process by the end of March," the Secretary of State told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show.

"Nothing changes that."

The British Government's insistence on its Brexit timetable means that the split from Europe could be triggered while the parties in Stormont are deep in post-election power sharing talks and with no first or deputy first minister in Northern Ireland.

Mr Brokenshire said ministers would still be in their jobs and would continue to be consulted.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood warned it may be illegal for the UK Government to push ahead with leaving the EU if there is no devolved government in Stormont.

"Mr Brokenshire has no right to speak on behalf of anyone in Northern Ireland - including on Brexit," he said.

Sinn Fein's Mairtin O Muilleoir, Stormont Finance Minister, repeated calls for the beneficiaries of the RHI scheme to be published and urged an early election.

"The public will have their say now," he said.

"I think people are looking for an opportunity to say they have zero tolerance of corruption, zero tolerance of bigotry and they want to have respect and equality. And that's what will be on the ballot paper."

Sinn Fein said it will not nominate a replacement for Martin McGuinness when the political crisis in Stormont comes to a head on Monday afternoon as the Assembly sits.

His resignation was precipitated by the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal - a botched eco-scheme set to cost £490 million - but the row also reignited a range of other disputes dividing the DUP/Sinn Fein-led coalition.

The reappointment process is one issue to be raised when the Assembly meets, along with emergency proposals by DUP Economy minister Simon Hamilton aimed at reducing the RHI overspend and a Sinn Fein motion of no confidence in DUP Speaker Robin Newton.

The earliest election date is five weeks from Monday and there would also be up to three weeks of negotiations following that to form a new executive.

Mr Brokenshire said he was not contemplating alternatives to devolved government in Northern Ireland.

Mr McGuinness's resignation automatically removed DUP leader Arlene Foster from her position as first minister - as executive structures dictate one cannot govern without the other.

Doubts remain over whether he will stand for an Assembly seat due to ill-health.

Long-serving South Down MLA for Sinn Fein Caitriona Ruane announced she will not seek re-election.

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