New shadow secretary says that Labour policy on NI is unchanged

Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses the TUC Congress at the Brighton Centre
Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses the TUC Congress at the Brighton Centre

Labour’s policy on Northern Ireland will not change despite the election of a pro-Irish republican leader, shadow secretary of state Vernon Coaker has said.

Mr Coaker was responding to a challenge from Secretary of State Theresa Villiers in the Commons yesterday.

Ms Villiers asked Mr Coaker to make clear that Labour still supports the right of the people of Northern Ireland to choose to be British or Irish,

Ms Villiers said the rise to the top of Labour politics of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell meant there was clear support for a united Ireland in the highest ranks of the Opposition.

Mrs Villiers said: “The leader and the shadow chancellor are on record many times as expressing their support for a united Ireland. That is an entirely legitimate view, as is the clearly held preference of these Conservative benches that our country stays together and Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom.

“It would be helpful for the shadow secretary of state when he responds (to say) under his party’s new leadership the consent at the heart of the Belfast Agreement will remain paramount.”

Mr Coaker said that Labour’s policy “remains absolutely the same” as he vowed to “pursue a bi-partisan approach” based on the Good Friday Agreement and other deals struck since.

Former secretary of state Owen Paterson welcomed Mr Coaker’s “very robust” words and DUP MP Nigel Dodds also welcomed the statement, wishing Mr Coaker well in “holding the line” on the issue.