Tory reshuffle: ‘Brandon Lewis riled unionists with his protocol fantasies – but is kept on for his slavish obedience to Boris’
The re-appointment of Brandon Lewis as Northern Ireland Secretary is down largely to his “slavish” obedience to his political master.
That is the view of UUP man Roy Beggs, as news emerged this week that Mr Lewis had survived the Prime Minister’s re-shuffle, which saw Boris Johnson sack education secretary Gavin Williamson and justice secretary Robert Buckland, among others.
Mr Lewis is the sixth Northern Ireland Secretary in the past decade.
Mr Beggs is one of the longest-serving Assembly members, and since he first assumed his seat he’s seen a dozen NI Secretaries come and go.
He said whilst Mr Lewis has more of a presence than the “complete non-entity who made no impact” that was Karen Bradley (January 2018 to July 2019), he lacks the energy of Julian Smith (July 2019 to February 2020), under whose watch the Assembly was finally restored – but who was then “shafted” by being sacked.
“It would appear the current Secretary of State is currently adopting a low-profile role, but has slavishly always brought the Boris Brexit line, whatever that’s been,” said Mr Beggs, MLA for East Antrim.
“Whether it’s that there is no border, or the reality – that there’s significant disruption.”
Mr Lewis had said on January 1 – the day the NI Protocol and the sea border kicked in – that “there is no ‘Irish Sea Border’... goods [are] flowing freely around the country, including between GB and NI”.
Then by June he had changed to saying: “I’m not denying the fact there is big disruption in Northern Ireland to businesses and consumers.We need to rectify that.”
Mr Beggs added: “ Clearly in his attempt to pretend that there was no sea border, he has riled the unionist community, who have seen a very obvious sea border.
“It appears he has followed the lead of Boris Johnson in his pronouncements. He’s faithfully served he who appointed him, so I’m unsrprised he’s remaining in post but he does have some work to do to regain any credibility.”
Accepting his reappointment on Wednesday, Mr Lewis had said: “Much to be getting on with as we promote innovation and drive investment, while addressing the legacy of the Troubles so NI can look forward and thrive as an integral part of the UK.”
This Twitter message was then greeted with a flood of comments which included unionists angered by the NI protocol, republicans angered by his use of the Union flag in the tweet, and relatives of people killed during the Troubles, angered by his promotion of a de facto amnesty for such crimes.
During his tenure in NI, Mr Lewis – a former chairman of the Conservatives, took a swipe at socially-conservative attitudes in Nothern Ireland.
He said in an interview with the Sunday Times that people in NI want to “[move] forward in a positive way on women’s rights, abortion and LGBTQ rights”, claiming that certain unnamed parties (though by implication he meant the DUP) had lost their “connection with grassroots voters”.
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