Withdrawal deal is a decisive stop forward, insists NI Secretary

The Northern Ireland Secretary has described Theresa May's withdrawal deal as a "decisive step forward".

As the Prime Minister continues to be criticised over the draft accord, Karen Bradley insisted it will help deliver a Brexit deal that works for the businesses and people of Northern Ireland.

Karen Bradley MP

Karen Bradley MP

Mrs Bradley made the comments during an address to business leaders in Belfast on the 20th anniversary of the Northern Ireland Act, which brought a powersharing government to Stormont.

In contrast to the position of the Democratic Unionists, who have blasted the deal as "very bad for Northern Ireland", Mrs Bradley insisted it "preserves the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom".

The Northern Ireland Secretary also emphasised what the powersharing government delivered for the region.

The Stormont assembly has been suspended for almost two years following a breakdown in relations between the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein.

Mrs Bradley said she is doing everything she can to restore the institutions.

She went on to emphasise what the body "brought to Northern Ireland".

"Not only did this bring about the relative peace we all enjoy today and provided certainty on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, it provided the platform for the Northern Ireland economy to prosper," she said.

"And all this has been at the forefront of our mind during the Brexit negotiations, and is reflected in the deal we have reached.

"The agreement preserves the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom, upholds the Belfast Agreement, and ensures people and businesses that rely on an open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland can continue living their lives and operating as they do now."

Mrs Bradley said the country now faces a choice between what she termed "the only workable deal that fulfils the will of the referendum", or "back to square one on Brexit".

"Clearly, this is a deal that has involved some difficult choices at times, and an element of compromise," she said.

"That is an unavoidable fact of negotiations and I accept not everybody is going to agree with every point of detail or choice that we have made.

"But it is fundamentally a deal which is in the national interest. It is a deal that will protect jobs, our national security and the integrity of our precious United Kingdom."