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NI must seize the moment and demand a stable government, says Brokenshire

By Cate McCurry

The Northern Ireland Secretary of State has said today's Assembly election is an opportunity to "reset and renew" the political debate at Stormont.

As hundreds of thousands of voters head to polling stations, James Brokenshire urged people to "seize this moment".

Speaking at a Brexit event in Brussels, he said that people in Northern Ireland need to demand a stable government.

"All people across Northern Ireland - including political leaders, businesses and community groups - need to take this chance to make sure their voice is heard loud and clear and that the demand for a stable, devolved, partnership government is heeded," he said. The Secretary of State attended a number of Brexit meetings with EU leaders yesterday when he made the comments.

He stated that his priority was to deliver a "successful vision" for Northern Ireland, but warned political leaders that they have a responsibility to work together.

He continued: "I will always be a loud champion for the interests of Northern Ireland within government and externally.

"But political leaders in Northern Ireland also have a responsibility to work together to make sure they are speaking up for Northern Ireland as well.

"We will do all that we can to deliver an effective, stable, power-sharing devolved Executive in Northern Ireland."

He further raised the priorities of local political parties working together to strengthen Northern Ireland's economy, including the challenges and opportunities posed by Brexit.

During yesterday's Brexit talks, Mr Brokenshire said he has reinforced the need to protect the Common Travel Area between the UK and the Republic of Ireland and achieving as "frictionless" a border as possible between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Mr Brokenshire also met with Northern Ireland's MEPs during the discussions.

He added: "We want to get the best possible deal for the UK and the best possible deal for Northern Ireland within the UK recognising Northern Ireland's particular circumstances."

He said he was acutely aware that the ability to move and trade freely across the border was an essential part of daily life for people and businesses on both sides.

Meanwhile, government sources said that ministers will seek to overturn yesterday's defeat in the House of Lords on the government's Brexit Bill when the legislation returns to the Commons.

Peers defied Prime Minister Theresa May, voting by 358 to 256 in favour of an opposition amendment guaranteeing the rights of EU nationals living in the UK after Brexit.

The government described the first defeat to be inflicted on the Bill during its passage through Parliament as "disappointing" but made clear they were determined to reverse it in the lower chamber.

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