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Brandon Lewis and DUP MP Wilson split over 'false dawn' Budget

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Secretary of State Brandon Lewis on Capitol Hill in Washington DC

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis on Capitol Hill in Washington DC

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Flautist Martha Guiney, from Newry, who is set to perform at two Northern Ireland Bureau breakfast events supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland

Flautist Martha Guiney, from Newry, who is set to perform at two Northern Ireland Bureau breakfast events supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis on Capitol Hill in Washington DC

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has hailed the "massive investment" in the region in the Budget.

Reacting to yesterday's announcement of an extra £210m for public services in the region, Mr Lewis said it was "time for the Stormont Executive to start making decisions and priorities around how it will invest the money it has got".

Mr Lewis made the comments during a visit to Washington DC ahead of St Patrick's Day events.

However, Sammy Wilson derided the Budget as "a false dawn for our people".

"The Chancellor's failure to acknowledge the damage being caused by Air Passenger Duty on regional economies like Northern Ireland is a clear indication that the Government is not serious about levelling up across the United Kingdom," the DUP MP said.

"It is long past the time that this tax was abolished. The implementation of a Carbon Tax for gas, in a deliberate attempt to placate the insatiable green lobby, will increase our energy bills and put pressure on the poorest households.

"The additional £210m being provided to the Northern Ireland Executive, while welcome, will not come close to addressing the challenges and pressures facing government departments in Northern Ireland.

"Given past experiences, there will also be a fear amongst many small businesses that the rates relief guarantees being provided to those in England will not be extended to Northern Ireland.

"In previous years, £100m provided to businesses in England for this purpose was simply absorbed into overall spending in Northern Ireland."

Mr Lewis is acting as the lone voice for Northern Ireland in the annual pre-St Patrick's Day engagements in the US.

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill pulled out of the trip earlier this week to focus on efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus.

"They have taken a decision which I absolutely respect as Deputy First Minister and First Minister, being at home to focus on that work the Executive is doing to make sure that we do everything we can to ensure that people in Northern Ireland, and we in the whole of the UK, (are kept) as safe as possible," Mr Lewis said.

"I'm here making sure that I'm doing my bit for Northern Ireland, talking to people here in the United States, businesses investing in Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland businesses as well about the opportunities that are there."

Mr Lewis has had meetings with State Department and White House officials, as well as senior members of the House of Representatives.Today, he will attend the White House reception, hosted by US President Donald Trump in honour of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, and the annual Friends of Ireland lunch at Capitol Hill, hosted by Nancy Pelosi.

Mr Lewis described his reception as "very positive".

"I think there is a very strong relationship that has been there historically between the US, the island of Ireland and the UK. There is obviously a huge love for Ireland as a whole island here in the US," he said.

Asked whether that love was likely to translate into additional money for Northern Ireland, Mr Lewis responded: "I think it can do, if you look at some of the sectors that have got really good opportunities ahead and some of the things I have seen in my first few weeks in this role. What is happening in cyber and digital work in Belfast, with US companies at the core, (is exciting)."

Belfast Telegraph