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Let's do business: new Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire keen to hit ground running

James Brokenshire determined to work with local parties and Dublin government to protect Northern Ireland's interests in looming negotiations over Brexit terms

By Noel McAdam

Northern Ireland's new Secretary of State has in his first statement described the region as a vital part of the UK - one which "has so much potential as a place to invest and do business".

Remainer James Brokenshire yesterday replaced Brexiteer Theresa Villiers, who quit frontbench politics after declining Theresa May's offer of another position.

The fallout created by the European referendum will top the agenda for the 48-year-old former Home Office minister as he takes charge at the Northern Ireland Office (NIO).

Concerns about the status of the Irish border after Brexit, and whether free movement of people and goods will be impacted, have dominated political debate across the island since the UK's historic vote to leave the EU.

Mr Brokenshire said: "The Prime Minister said in her statement yesterday that there is a 'precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland'.

"I know from my previous visits to Northern Ireland that it is a very special and valued part of our United Kingdom, and which has so much potential as a place to invest and do business.

"A key priority for me is to continue with the full implementation of the Stormont House and Fresh Start agreements, to help tackle paramilitarism, put the Executive's finances on a secure footing and address the legacy of the past.

"I also want to maintain the Government's full support for the Belfast Agreement.

"Another huge challenge is to ensure that we make a success of the UK's decision to leave the European Union. It is vital that Northern Ireland's interests are fully protected and advanced, including in relation to the border.

"I am looking forward to working closely over the coming weeks and months with the Executive, the Irish Government and the whole community in Northern Ireland to build a brighter and more secure future for everyone."

Mr Brokenshire is regarded as one of the closest confidants of new Prime Minister Theresa May, and had been tipped to succeed her as Home Secretary.

But after Theresa Villiers opted to leave the Government yesterday, he was offered the Northern Ireland job.

The MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup said he was "delighted and honoured" to have been offered the position and is expected to make his first visit here in his new position within the next few days.

DUP leader Arlene Foster offered her congratulations to the new Secretary of State.

"Looking forward to working with you," she tweeted.

Just a few weeks ago Mr Brokenshire was at the centre of the immigration issue when he told MPs Britain's new system would not necessarily be modelled on the Australian-style, points-based scheme promised by leading Leave campaigners during the referendum campaign.

But he also confirmed that talks with the Irish Government had reaffirmed the desire of both the UK and Ireland to preserve their joint Common Travel Area after Britain leaves the European Union.

DUP MP Ian Paisley said Mr Brokenshire was "a very good choice".

In a tweet, the North Antrim MP added: "He has patience and skill to do the job well. Many congratulations."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Mr Brokenshire would face many significant challenges that he should approach openly "and with a listening ear."

Referring to the EU referendum, the Foyle MLA went on: "Mr Brokenshire was a Remainer, knew the benefits of staying in the EU and the consequences of leaving.

"In his role as Secretary of State, he must act in the best interests of people of Northern Ireland, and I urge him to listen to his original instincts and ensure the democratic will here is upheld."

Alliance leader David Ford said he had worked closely with Mr Brokenshire during his time as Justice Minister.

"I trust his experience during that period will help him bring a balanced view to the role of Secretary of State," Mr Ford added.

"Part of that role will be to recognise that the majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to remain within the EU and to start work immediately on the particular circumstances of that.

"That will involve fighting for Northern Ireland in any Brexit negotiations, by articulating he will be an active advocate of the interests of Northern Ireland, both within the Cabinet and within EU discussions."

Congratulating Mr Brokenshire on his appointment, Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said he hoped to have an early meeting with the new NIO man.

"The post of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland carries significant responsibilities on important matters that remain within the competence of Westminster, such as security, parades and dealing with the legacy of the past," he added. "I wish Mr Brokenshire the very best as he assumes this important responsibility."

And Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said: "We hope to see James actively engage with the Official Opposition as well as the Northern Ireland Executive."

Belfast Telegraph


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