Belfast Telegraph

Brokenshire vows to do all he can in bid to avoid an election

By David Young, PA

Secretary of State James Brokenshire has said he will continue to push for a resolution to the crisis engulfing Stormont - despite Sinn Fein insisting that a snap election is a must.

Mr Brokenshire acknowledged that a poll is a "high probability" but said he would keep engaging with the parties in a bid to avert it.

If consensus on a range of disputes between Sinn Fein and the DUP is not achieved by Monday, Mr Brokenshire is obliged by law to call an election, potentially for late February or early March.

"My focus is on the here and now, on what can be achieved now, on what opportunities there are, what the potential may be to bring people together, rather than see people be driven further apart," he said.

Mr Brokenshire warned that finding agreement would be harder on the other side of a divisive election.

Mr Brokenshire and Irish foreign affairs minister Charlie Flanagan are holding separate bilateral meetings with Stormont parties in an effort to chart a way through the crisis.

The latest twists in a week of high drama at Stormont came as Theresa May made clear in the Commons that events in Belfast would not derail the Government's timetable for leaving the European Union.

The Prime Minister rejected a challenge from Scottish National Party MP Angus Robertson to postpone the start of EU withdrawal talks under Article 50 because, he argued, Northern Ireland would be left without a voice in the process.

On Tuesday evening, Mrs May and Taoiseach Enda Kenny discussed the growing crisis on the phone.

A Downing Street spokesman said they both "recognised the difficulties and seriousness of the situation in Northern Ireland and how important it was to work together - with the Irish Government and the parties of Northern Ireland - to find a solution.

"In addition, they spoke about how Mr Brokenshire and Mr Flanagan will be working very closely together over the next few days and months to support the parties of Northern Ireland in finding a resolution."

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