What the Prime Minister’s cabinet reshuffle means is beginning to become clear. Apart from merging the staff team at number 10 and number 11 which is in itself a seismic move, the people of Northern Ireland have been less than pleased with the sacking of Julian Smith. After all, he played a pivotal role in getting Stormont back up and running. His hard work and commitment to the job were second to none. Hence, it is difficult to understand why Boris Johnson has sacked one of the most successful Northern Ireland Secretaries.
In Northern Ireland and in Dublin, reactions to Julian Smith’s sacking were of disbelief and, among some, dismay. On Twitter, the First Minister, Arlene Foster, thanked Smith:
“Spoke with @JulianSmithUK a short time ago to thank him for his help in getting devolution restored. We may not have always agreed (we did sometimes) but his dedication to the role was incredible. Best wishes to him and his family. Always welcome in Fermanagh.”
These sentiments were echoed by Simon Coveney, the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs who brokered the deal with the former Northern Ireland Secretary:
“U have been such an effective SOS for NI at a time of real challenge & risk. Without your leadership I don’t believe NI would have a Govt today. Thank you @JulianSmithUK for your trust, friendship and courage; UK & #Ireland can look to future with more confidence because of it.”
For his part, Julian Smith thanked Boris Johnson and the people of Northern Ireland:
“Serving the people of Northern Ireland has been the biggest privilege. I am extremely grateful to @BorisJohnson for giving me the chance to serve this amazing part of our country. The warmth & support from people across NI has been incredible. Thank you so much.”
According to the Belfast Telegraph, Julian Smith said when asked about his plans that they would involve ‘going to the pub.’
Why was Julian Smith sacked?
The Prime Minster’s reasons for dismissing Smith remain unclear. Suggestions that Downing Street felt left out of the loop during the negotiations to restore power-sharing have been rubbished by sources.
Speculation continues with some fearing that legacy issues lay at the heart of the sacking. A report in the Irish News suggests that some Tories are uncomfortable with the elements in the agreement that establish an investigation into alleged crimes perpetrated by British soldiers during the Northern Ireland troubles.
American journalist, Allison Morris, unsuccessfully sought answers from the Prime Minister on legacy issues. She is now convinced that the UK government wants to row back on prior commitments and believes this to be one of the main reasons for Smith’s dismissal.
“I’m not convinced he knew then what Stormont House – agreed by his government in 2014 – contained, he does now though and the sacking of @JulianSmithUK seems to be, among other things, an attempt to row back on the New Decade legacy commitments.”
Cabinet reshuffle – Brandon Lewis is the new Northern Ireland Secretary
Every cabinet reshuffle news report on the incoming Northern Ireland Secretary, Brandon Lewis, has led with his ruling out a border in the Irish sea. As per the withdrawal agreement, there will be some checks in place to regulate the movement of goods between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain. Lewis has since acknowledged that some checks may be necessary.
After his appointment, the new NI Secretary took to Twitter to announce his delight:
“I am honoured to have been appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland by the Prime Minister. This is an exciting time for Northern Ireland & I follow fantastic colleagues as predecessors, whose work I hope we can continue to build on.”