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Brandon Lewis: His time as Northern Ireland Secretary

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Brandon Lewis

Brandon Lewis

PA

Brandon Lewis

Brandon Lewis was appointed Secretary of State by Boris Johnson in February 2020.

The Great Yarmouth MP (51)  – first elected in 2010 – was the fourth person in four years to take up the daunting role.

His predecessor was unceremoniously sacked by the PM just a month after Stormont was restored.

It was a big achievement for Julian Smith who had spent most of his 204 days in the job working towards what became the New Decade New Approach deal.

He left big shoes for his successor to fill – something Mr Lewis acknowledged at the outset.

The new Northern Ireland Secretary’s first task was to ensure the commitments made by each of the main parties here in the deal came to fruition.

Despite having a degree in economics from the University of Buckingham he struggled to find the cash to do it.

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However, issues were quickly overshadowed by the pandemic and difficulties surrounding Brexit including his struggle to fulfil his own promise that there would be “no border down the Irish Sea”.

The former Remain campaigner was converted to his boss’ Brexit vision claiming he was "first and foremost a democrat" to explain his change of heart. 

As a former chairman of the Conservative Party – with experience serving as a housing minister and security minister – Mr Lewis was used to managing a busy in-tray.

But he had to find his feet quickly after arriving in Belfast.

The former barrister’s legal prowess came in handy when he was forced to justify the UK Government's plan to break international law by amending the Brexit deal with the EU.

He told MPs it would only to do so in a "very specific and limited way".

After just 29 months in office – with much of that time spent dealing with the Covid19 crisis – what exactly he achieved remains to be seen.

Plans to deal with the Northern Ireland Protocol have only passed the first hurdle and are subject to a legal challenge by the EU.

Controversial legislation allowing for a conditional amnesty to end Troubles legacy prosecutions has yet to make it through the Lords and faces political opposition here.

Most recently, he said he would use new powers – which allowed him to act without Stormont consent – to commission abortion services in Northern Ireland after an attempt to convince Northern Ireland’s Department of Health to set up a fully funded service themselves. 

Mr Lewis’ skillset was not sufficient to convince the DUP to enter power-sharing with Sinn Fein after the nationalist party won most seats in the Assembly election back in May.

That means he leaves Northern Ireland in a worse state than he found it in. 

It may transpire that Mr Lewis resumes his role under a new Prime Minister, but whoever takes on the job will have to do what Julian Smith managed to do back in 2020.


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