Labour’s Owen Smith was ‘no friend to unionists,’ says Sammy Wilson

Owen Smith was sacked after calling for a second Brexit referendum
Owen Smith was sacked after calling for a second Brexit referendum

DUP MP Sammy Wilson has said he hopes Northern Ireland’s new shadow secretary of state will be “less biased” towards unionists than his predecessor.

Tony Lloyd has taken over the role from Labour’s Owen Smith, who was sacked last week by party leader Jeremy Corbyn after calling for a second Brexit referendum.

Mr Wilson, the DUP Brexit spokesman, said the removal of Mr Smith from the post was “no great loss”, claiming he had been “no friend to unionists”.

However, the UUP struck a very different note, with party leader Robin Swann stating that Mr Smith’s sacking would be a “considerable loss”.

East Antrim MP Mr Wilson told the News Letter: “Owen Smith went out of his way to show his distaste for unionists.

“A significant number of Labour MPs are clearly determined to keep the UK in the EU and are willing to do anything they can to achieve that.

“I don’t know much about Tony Lloyd’s views on Northern Ireland, but it would be my hope that he displays less bias towards unionists than his predecessor and is willing to at least consider unionists’ point of view.”

Following Mr Smith’s sacking, Ulster Unionist leader Mr Swann tweeted: “While we did not agree on many Labour positions, Owen Smith has been a voice of reason and understanding on NI, Brexit and British Irish relations – he will be a considerable loss but indicative of Jeremy Corbyn’s so called ‘leadership’.”

Echoing these remarks, UUP MLA Steve Aiken described Mr Smith as a “sincere friend to Northern Ireland”, adding that he had been “prepared to listen to all sides and opinions”.

Mr Smith said he “stood by his principles” in calling for another EU referendum and claimed his party leader had made a “mistake” in firing him.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said Brexit was “the biggest economic crisis that our country will have faced for many, many generations” and he believed Labour should stand against it.