Analysis: What challenges face the new NI secretary?

Posted By: July 25, 2019

By Gareth Gordon, BBC NI. Thursday, July 25, 2019

Any new Conservative secretary of state comes to Northern Ireland already loaded down by baggage – at least as far as Sinn Féin is concerned. 

It’s even more true if they’ve been welcomed onstage at the DUP conference as a “friend” of that party.

That’s what happened when Julian Smith attended the annual conference of the DUP in 2017 following the confidence-and-supply agreement which binds the DUP and the Tories together until – or indeed if – a future general election ends in divorce.

And it’s bound to be thrown back at the former Conservative chief whip when he arrives at Stormont House to attempt to steer the talks towards a restoration of devolution with a sizeable dollop of Brexit on the side.

Against that, he was the man with the impossible job of getting enough of his MPs to vote for Theresa May’s doomed Withdrawal Agreement.

As chief whip that was his job, but it put him on the opposite side of the argument to the DUP.

So welcome to Northern Ireland, Mr. Smith.

At least you don’t have a big act to follow.

Your time in Northern Ireland cannot possibly be as unsuccessful as Karen Bradley’s. Can it?

Who is Julian Smith?

On Wednesday, outgoing secretary Karen Bradley was sacked by the new prime minister. before the new cabinet was revealed.

Julian Smith has been an MP for Skipton and Ripon since 2010.

Image caption Julian Smith talking to Ian Paisley at the DUP party conference in 2017
Having backed the Remain campaign in the 2016 Brexit referendum, he most recently served Theresa May as chief whip – a job in which he was unable to guide her proposed EU Withdrawal Agreement through the House of Commons.

In that role, he also worked closely with the DUP and attended the party’s annual conference in 2017.