Belfast Telegraph

Low-profile James Brokenshire at the centre of Brexit talks

By Allan Preston

Some have been wondering where Secretary of State James Brokenshire was during negotiations but it has emerged his low profile in Northern Ireland was because he was immersed behind the scenes.

James Brokenshire's last public engagement in Northern Ireland was on November 30 when he met Belfast traders ahead of Small Business Saturday; the following day he attended a meeting with his own constituents in London.

Despite a turbulent week - which saw the Prime Minister Theresa May forced to delay agreement with the EU following DUP objections and strained relations with the Irish Government - Mr Brokenshire had not made any official public appearances or made any statements on the matter until yesterday.

A representative for Mr Brokenshire confirmed the Secretary of State had been involved in intensive negotiations behind the scenes at Downing Street.

A spokesman for Mr Brokenshire told The Belfast Telegraph: "He was crucial to the positive outcome of the talks and worked diligently into the wee hours of the morning on Thursday to do everything possible to get the positive result for the people of Northern Ireland, and the wider UK, as we leave the European Union.

"Once again, Mr Brokenshire demonstrated his huge commitment to the people of Northern Ireland.

"The outcome protects Northern Ireland's integral place in the internal market of the UK with full, unfettered access for Northern Ireland's businesses.  It avoids a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and protects the Belfast Agreement."

"We remain determined to negotiate a Brexit that works for everyone, in all parts of the United Kingdom."

The Belfast Telegraph understands Lord (Jonathan) Caine, the Secretary of State's Special Adviser, was also key to the successful outcome of the negotiations.

Early yesterday morning, a last-minute 'breakthrough' deal was announced, allowing the Brexit negotiations to progress to the second phase of trade talks.

Theresa May said there would be no "hard border" with Ireland and that the rights of EU citizens in the UK and vice-versa would be protected. British sources also confirmed the UK's 'divorce bill' from the EU will be an estimated £35-39bn.

Although hidden from view this week, Mr Brokenshire has had to navigate a series of crises throughout 2017.

When the RHI scandal brought the Stormont Assembly crashing down in February, he set multiple deadlines for the DUP and Sinn Fein to reach agreement and restore the Executive.

All of them appeared to pass without consequence, adding pressure on the NI Secretary to impose direct rule in Northern Ireland.

In November, Mr Brokenshire was forced to allocate funding to stop public services running out of money. A further £660m was added in the Chancellor's budget.

Further headaches throughout the year included demands for him to stop MLA pay (for which he commissioned an independent review in November), claims by Irish rights activists he refused to meet them over an Irish Language Act, as well as pressure to publish plans to deal with the legacy of the Troubles in the absence of a Stormont deal.

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