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Bradley will not now brief MPs on state of talks on February 7

By David Young

The Secretary of State has resisted calls to commit to making a formal Westminster statement on the state of the Stormont talks next week.

Karen Bradley apologised to a committee of MPs yesterday, claiming there appeared to be a "misunderstanding" that she was going to make a definitive statement on negotiations on February 7.

Mrs Bradley said she would be responding to scheduled Northern Ireland questions on that date, but cautioned that the delicate nature of negotiations might prevent her from revealing details on progress or otherwise.

She told members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee: "What I don't want to be is in a position of giving you a commitment that I will make a statement at which I say nothing, I will make a statement when I have something to say."

When announcing the last-ditch round of talks to save power-sharing on January 18, Mrs Bradley had said she would update the House of Commons on February 7. Some interpreted that as a key date in what had been billed as a short, intensive negotiation process. Sinn Fein said it believed the initiative would last two weeks.

Mrs Bradley's comments at Westminster yesterday suggested the process could continue beyond next week.

During her committee appearance, she faced pressure from a number of MPs, including independent Lady Hermon, Labour's Kate Hoey and the DUP's Jim Shannon to make a formal statement in the House of Commons on February 7.

It was noted that the parliamentary recess falls the following week.

Mrs Bradley said power-sharing talks remained in a "preparatory stage" with full round table exchanges between the five main Stormont parties and the UK and Irish Governments scheduled to begin next Monday "at the latest".

"I'm sorry if there has been misunderstanding about the significance of the 7th of February, it is the date for oral questions," she told committee members.

The Conservative MP did not definitively rule out making a formal Commons statement next week.

David Sterling, the senior civil servant currently running Stormont in the absence of ministers, last week told the committee that he required certainty on a budget by February 8.

Mrs Bradley declined to confirm if the Government would legislate for a budget on that date if efforts to restore power-sharing had not succeeded at that point.

She said she hoped to give an update next week, depending on the outcome of the talks.

Belfast Telegraph

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