Belfast Telegraph

Concern that experienced advisers no longer at NIO

Gone: Lord Caine
Gone: Lord Caine
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The Ulster Unionists have said the failure to retain a long-serving special adviser in the Northern Ireland Office leaves a "huge gap" at a very sensitive time politically.

Lord Caine, who has served under six Conservative Secretaries of State, appears not to have been reappointed by Downing Street.

The Belfast Telegraph has been told that the two other special advisers, or spads as they are informally known, who worked with Karen Bradley - Romilly Dennys and Kris Hopkins - have also not been retained.

A Downing Street spokeswoman last night said she couldn't comment because the recruitment process hadn't been completed.

She added that nobody had been sacked and no decisions had been taken.

However, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal that one of the new 'spads' is Lilah Howson-Smith who was an adviser in the chief whips' office. New Secretary of State, Julian Smith, was previously chief whip.

Ulster Unionist peer Sir Reg Empey said: "It is very disappointing that Jonathan Caine has not been retained. He's been around Northern Ireland policy for a quarter of a century. Very few people have the breadth of experience and institutional knowledge of this place that Lord Caine has.

"We have a new Secretary of State that doesn't have a background regarding Northern Ireland. Nor does the new junior minister Nick Hurd or Ms Howson-Smith have that background.

"At a very delicate time for the talks, and with other controversies, I don't think such a lack of experience is a good thing."

A UUP source described Lord Caine as "a great friend of unionism". However, the DUP were less keen on him.

A DUP source said: "That Lord Caine was around as long as he was shows that he could build relationships. He was always pleasant to deal with but it is clear that a new team is needed at the Northern Ireland Office.

"The ethos at the NIO has to change. The row over the Queen's portrait was only low-hanging fruit, there are far greater issues there."

When asked if the DUP had lobbied for personnel changes at the NIO, a party spokesman said: "This is a matter for the Conservative party. With any change of minister, there will be wider changes.

"We thank the outgoing team for their engagement and efforts. With a significant in-tray, we look forward to getting to work with the new Secretary of State and his team."

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