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Shadow Secretary insists he won't push for Irish unity and admits differences with boss

By Liam Clarke

Published 28/09/2015

Address: Vernon Coaker at conference yesterday
Address: Vernon Coaker at conference yesterday

Labour's shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland has insisted that he - and not Jeremy Corbyn - will be in charge of the party's policies here.

Vernon Coaker stressed that Labour policy here will be aimed at upholding the principle of consent and not pushing for Irish unity regardless of local opinion.

He warned that Mr Corbyn would need to build a better relationship with the armed forces after generals reportedly expressed dismay with his policies. One predicted that there might be a coup if he were made Prime Minister.

Mr Coaker, the shadow secretary, was here last week to reassure parties that his hand was on the tiller in respect of Northern Ireland. Mr Coaker has had the Northern Ireland job before but was more recently in defence. He backed Yvette Cooper for leader and not Mr Corbyn.

When he was offered the post he spelt out his position. He said he was "clear on Northern Ireland that it was about the bipartisan approach, the principle of consent, building on the agreement and so on. I am going to go with the policies I was elected on".

In July Mr Corbyn pledged to introduce same-sex marriage here if he became Prime Minister. Mr Coaker commented: "I voted for same-sex marriage in Westminster and I support it, but in order to take that forward you need to work with the people of Northern Ireland."

In the past Mr Corbyn has been generally opposed to military action, opposed to nuclear weapons and in favour of the UK leaving Nato. One unnamed general last week told the Sunday Times that such policies could lead to a coup ousting him by force.

Asked if Mr Corbyn could indeed expect trouble from the Army he said: "I don't think in the sense of a coup. Not at all."

He added a qualifier. "Yet is important for any Government to have good relationships with the armed forces and that is why it is important people like me are involved... I respect the armed forces and know what they did around the world but this is a democracy and in a democracy the democratically government sets the policies."

Addressing the question of Labour fielding candidates in Northern Ireland, Mr Coaker said: "I got the NEC of the party to agree a review in every parliament of the status of the Labour party in Northern Ireland.

"It has to review whether the party can stand or not."

He added: "As far as I am concerned we are in a new parliament and that needs to happen quickly.

"I think that is something that is there and it needs discussing."

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