Nigel Dodds: Karen Bradley has been a failure as NI secretary of state

The DUP’s most senior Westminster figure has accused Karen Bradley of “glaring failures” and suggested that Theresa May’s friend and loyal Cabinet ally should be removed as secretary of state for Northern Ireland.

Tuesday, 19th March 2019, 7:30 am
Updated Tuesday, 19th March 2019, 9:01 am

In evidence that Mrs Bradley has now lost the confidence of the leaders of unionism – as well as the leaders of nationalism and the Alliance Party – Nigel Dodds said that she was presiding over a department which was “dysfunctional”.

Mrs Bradley is a staunchly loyal supporter of the prime minister’s at a point when Mrs May is desperately in need of such support within her divided Cabinet.

But Ms Bradley has made a series of gaffes during her time as secretary of state and has also at points appeared to possess a basic ignorance of the political and constitutional situation in Northern Ireland.

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Karen Bradley appears to have lost the confidence of every major NI party
Karen Bradley appears to have lost the confidence of every major NI party

Nine months after her appointment, Mrs Bradley told Parliament’s in-house magazine The House that when she had started the job she was not aware that “people who are nationalists don’t vote for unionist parties and vice versa”.

A fortnight ago she outraged nationalists and others by giving a garbled Commons answer in which she said that Troubles killings by the police and the Army were “not crimes” but were the result of soldiers and policemen acting “in a dignified and appropriate way”. She later apologised for that comment.

The same day, she misled the Commons on another matter, telling MPs that the five main parties in Northern Ireland support the government’s refusal to backdate political transparency rules – despite the fact that the Alliance Party has for years been vociferously opposed to the government’s stance.

In an interview with The House magazine, Mr Dodds said: “Karen obviously has had her problems and difficulties, there’s no doubt about that. The NIO [Northern Ireland Office] has been, in our view, a dysfunctional department for quite a time. It needs strong leadership.

“I think that Karen has, perhaps, not been as out there in terms of getting across the people in Northern Ireland, talking to them, meeting with groups and all the rest of it, as some of her predecessors.

“I know that, however, Brexit and the votes here has meant that maybe she hasn’t had as much time. But her basic policy approach has been flawed in the sense that she has decided that Northern Ireland could just stand still, leave it to the civil servants. That’s a glaring failure on her part. She has not taken a grip and shown the leadership that she should have.”

When asked if there should there be a change of leadership in the NIO, the DUP’s Westminster leader said bluntly: “I think the government needs to have a change of leadership in a number of departments, yes, across the board.”

Mrs May’s decision to accept the EU’s sequencing on Brexit talks was “catastrophic”, Mr Dodds told The House.

He said that triggering Article 50 “before the government had actually got its ducks in a row” was “another major mistake”.

He said that the DUP “did warn the prime minister” not to “accept the Irish protocol back in December [2017] in a political document”.