Shock and sadness at loss of shadow NI secretary Coaker

Vernon Coaker who has resigned as shadow Northern Ireland secretary. Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Vernon Coaker who has resigned as shadow Northern Ireland secretary. Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Political figures in Northern Ireland are among those expressing their shock and disappointment that Vernon Coaker has resigned from Labour’s shadow cabinet.

Mr Coaker, who became shadow Northern Ireland secretary for the second time last September, was one of eleven MPs to desert leader Jeremy Corbyn over the weekend.

In his resignation statement, the MP for Gedling said: “The decision to leave Europe leaves the whole of the UK facing massive uncertainty and Labour now needs a strong and clear direction to serve as an effective opposition as we move forward, particularly if we face a general election in the next 12 months.

“I believe it is time for the party to unite behind a new leader to ensure our MPs can serve the whole of the electorate as that effective opposition.”

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said he was “very sorry” to learn of Mr Coaker’s resignation.

“He was a good and committed friend of Northern Ireland,” Mr Nesbitt added.

Alliance leader David Ford expressed sadness, saying Mr Coaker will be missed.

He said: “Regardless of the internal disputes within the Labour Party, I am very sad to see Vernon go. He has worked tirelessly for Northern Ireland over the years and was a good friend to all our people.”

Christopher Stalford of the DUP used Twitter to praise Mr Coaker as “a genuine and decent bloke who cared about Northern Ireland”.

The South Belfast MLA added: “Hope he will be back in post before long.”

Mr Coaker served as minister for schools under Gordon Brown. He has been an MP since 1997. In February, Mr Coaker visited the News Letter office in Belfast while campaigning for a Remain vote.

He said at the time that the onus was on those campaigning to leave the EU to explain exactly how the UK would look in that eventuality, saying that it was “not good enough” for them to suggest “it’ll be all right on the night”.

He also stressed his love of Britain, but said that “patriotism is not owned by those who want to come out [of the EU]”.

Former Alliance MP Naomi Long said she was “genuinely gutted” to see him go.

“NI has lost a true friend and advocate at Westminster,” she tweeted.

Also using Twitter, former senior PSNI child protection officer Jim Gamble said: “A man who represents everything that is good about labour. @Vernon_Coaker you did the right thing. This cannot go on.”

Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International NI tweeted: “Very sorry to see @Vernon_Coaker is no longer Shadow NI Secretary - always diligent, always good craic. Sad times.”