Belfast Telegraph

Gove is tipped for 'promotion' to NI Secretary post in cabinet reshuffle

Contention: Michael Gove
Contention: Michael Gove

By Gillian Halliday and Jonathan Bell

Michael Gove is in contention to replace Karen Bradley as the next Northern Ireland Secretary, it has emerged.

The Tory MP, who is currently Environment Secretary, is the latest party heavyweight to be linked to the cabinet role.

Speculation has been mounting over who could replace Mrs Bradley as Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson's tussle over the keys to Number 10 comes to a close on Wednesday.

The speculation emerged yesterday in the Sunday Times and the Mail on Sunday which reported that Mr Gove is set to not only remain in the cabinet but is being lined up for a "promotion".

A source told the Sunday Times that Mr Johnson - who is hotly tipped to become the next Prime Minister - wants to recognise talent and show unity.

It reports there is speculation he could become resident at Hillsborough Castle, but would more likely end up with the communities brief responsible for housing. While he was running for the Tory leadership job, Mr Gove made headlines after he described current NI Secretary Karen Bradley as "brilliant", which led some to claim he was "out of touch" with public opinion on his colleague's performance here.

Mr Gove has previously been forced to defend remarks he made in 2000 voicing his strong opposition to the Good Friday Agreement in a study of the Northern Ireland peace process called The Price of Peace.

In it, Mr Gove compared the agreement to the appeasement of Nazis and the condoning of the desires of paedophiles, describing the 1998 historic accord as a "moral stain" and a "humiliation of our army, police and parliament".

Mr Gove also wrote at the time he believed the SAS and others should have been allowed to continue here and could have defeated the IRA. But in 2016 he said the agreement "could have been handled in a different way" and he was glad there was now peace in Northern Ireland.

"There are people who naturally felt as I did, discomfort; there is a moral question about [whether] someone who had been engaged in terrorism should be in office and I found that very difficult to take," he told the BBC.

A new biography of the former journalist outlines how Mr Gove knows the lyrics to The Sash and how he closely identified with the politics of Orangeism.

Other prominent Conservatives being tipped for the NI Secretary job include former defence secretary Gavin Williamson, who is said to be pushing for the role, and Belfast-born MP Conor Burns. If he is chosen, he would make history as the first person born here to assume the role, while Mr Williamson's credentials include the negotiation of the confidence and supply deal with the DUP.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times also reported that Mr Johnson's team are hoping to strike a "trade deal lite" with the EU ahead of October 21, which would allow trading conditions to continue in the event of a no-deal and which could potentially prevent a hard border.

There are claims European leaders have signalled they could be open to such a proposal.

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