Northern Ireland’s newly appointed shadow secretary of state Tony Lloyd has said the issue of the Irish border post-Brexit is at the top of his agenda.
The Labour MP replaced Owen Smith, who was sacked after breaking ranks with Jeremy Corbyn by calling for a new EU referendum.
Mr Lloyd, a former chair of the parliamentary Labour Party, said he is relishing his new role, but acknowledged it will be “a real challenge”.
“As we leave the European Union, ensuring there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is of paramount importance and this will be my number one priority,” the Rochdale MP said.
Mr Lloyd has been hailed by his party leader as “highly experienced former government minister who is committed to ensuring that peace in Northern Ireland is maintained and helping to steer the devolution deal back on track”.
An MP since 1983, Mr Lloyd first represented his native Stretford, which later became the Manchester Central constituency.
He stepped down as MP in 2012 to become Greater Manchester police and crime commissioner, a role he held until 2017.
He also served as interim mayor of Greater Manchester from 2015 until 2017.
Mr Lloyd returned to Westminster in 2017 as MP for Rochdale.
He has held a number of positions in the shadow cabinet over the last three decades, including housing, foreign affairs, environment, education and transport.
The father of four told Rochdale Online his latest appointment had “come as a surprise”.
He added: “It will be a great challenge because we know Northern Ireland matters enormously. There has been issues with the border between the north and the Republic of Ireland.
“For me it will be a challenge but a real pleasure to work in something so clearly in the national interest of ours.”
Recognising Northern Ireland has “its own unique situation”, Mr Lloyd added: “It has not been long since the Good Friday Agreement and other arrangements have brought peace between our two islands.”
He also said he was “very much looking forward” to maintaining his region’s close economic ties with the Province.
Mr Lloyd added: “We are very close to Northern Ireland here in the north west of England and, post Brexit, it is going to be really important for the economy of Northern Ireland, the north west and the Republic to work together well.
“Economic interest and our own interests in jobs in the north west depend on trade with parts of Ireland.”