Belfast Telegraph

Milestone Wednesday: Monday's Stormont talks 'a cup of tea and a chat' claims MP... but deal could be done in days, says Bradley

By Jonathan Bell

Groundhog day may have passed (or has it?) but it was a case of the same again in the Northern Ireland secretary's update to the house of commons on Wednesday.

Progress has been made but big gaps still need to be bridged, she told MPs at Northern Ireland questions.

She said that while an agreement in the coming days was "not certain" it was her "firm belief" a deal - which she said all were committed to reaching - could be done in the coming days.

She repeatedly refused to go into the specifics around what had been discussed saying to do so might jeopardise the process.

Mrs Bradley said she understood the frustration of the Northern Ireland people in having no government "but there are differences and those differences need to be overcome".

The DUP's Nigel Dodds pressed Mrs Bradley to make a firm commitment that she would intervene to set a budget.

The Secretary of State declined to offer such a direct pledge, but she highlighted that her predecessor, James Brokenshire, had done something similar for the current year's budget.

Lady Sylvia asked about the level of engagement with the smaller parties, namely the SDLP, UUP and Alliance who were involved in the first all-party talks on Monday.

The independent unionist said she had heard it was a case of "a cup of tea, a bit of a chat and a 'see you on Thursday,'" which she found hard to believe.

Mrs Bradley said all parties had been included and she had met with all their leaders, adding: "Unless the two big parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein can reach an agreement then we are not able to achieve devolved government therefore it is right there are detailed bi-lateral discussion between those two parties."

In announcing a renewed and "final opportunity" for talks to restore the Northern Ireland institutions Karen Bradley said she would update parliament on February 7 on the state of play.

She said it was not a deadline but rather a "milestone". Later she played down the significance of the update and apologised to a committee of MPs claiming there appeared to be a “misunderstanding” that she was going to make a definitive statement on negotiations.

Below is how her first appearance at Northern Ireland Commons unfolded:

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