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Brokenshire cancels US trip to push talks

By Staff Reporter

Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire has cancelled his trip to Washington to concentrate on critical talks to save powersharing at Stormont.

Mr Brokenshire was due to meet President Donald Trump as part of the annual St Patrick's Day visit.

However, he has decided to pull out of the trip to focus on helping Northern Ireland's political parties strike a deal.

If no agreement is reached by March 27, the region is facing another snap election.

A senior UK government source said that Mr Brokenshire had been due to fly to Washington on Wednesday for two days.

However, he has decided that the ongoing talks are at a "critical stage" and that is where his focus must be.

"He is just focused on getting the right result and getting an agreement by the 27th," the source said.

"The deadline is looming.

"He will have no other option by law but to call another election if there is no agreement by then."

Mr Brokenshire recently met the acting US ambassador to the UK, Lew Lukens, to discuss the situation at Stormont.

"The Secretary of State is encouraged by how seriously the Americans are taking this," the source added.

"He would love to go to Washington. Washington has always helped Northern Ireland. But now is not the right time and time is short."

Political parties are due to resume talks again today in a bid to restore the powersharing institutions. They have just over two weeks to come to an agreement or there could be another snap election.

The recent Assembly election saw an end to the unionist majority at Stormont.

Sinn Fein now holds one seat less than the DUP in the Assembly.

Last week, in a letter to all MPs, Mr Brokenshire set out the consequences of the DUP and Sinn Fein failing to strike a deal.

"If no agreement is reached in the short window following the election, there would be a number of significant consequences.

"There would be no Executive, no real budget, no Programme for Government and risks to public services. Ultimately, we would also be facing a second election with ongoing disruption and uncertainty for businesses and the people of Northern Ireland that would bring," he said in his letter.

Mr Brokenshire added that he was "not contemplating any other outcome but a resumption of devolved government as soon as possible".

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