After Theresa May accepted the inevitability of her weakened position by announcing her resignation as prime minister, the focus last night turned to her deeply unpopular secretary of state, Karen Bradley.
Yesterday morning a tearful Mrs May referred to Northern Ireland and the need to compromise if devolution is to be restored.
However, Mrs Bradley, who has been ultra-loyal to Mrs May and who last night said she was “extremely saddened” to see her resign, has over recent months lost the confidence of every local party.
She has come under intense pressure over the last fortnight over the allegation by victims of historical abuse that she was using them as a political pawn, something she denied, by choosing not to immediately move towards Westminster legislation to allow them to be compensated.
Last night Margaret McGuckin of Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (SAVIA) said: “We hope that Karen Bradley will go with her, or else be moved very far off as ambassador in the Middle East.”
However, she said that victims now feared that the dysfunctionality in London, as well as at Stormont, could make things worse for them and urged MLAs “to get back immediately” to doing their jobs as legislators.
Green Party leader Clare Bailey said: “My only hope is that when Theresa May departs, she takes Secretary of State Karen Bradley with her.”
Last night the DUP’s focus turned towards who will succeed Mrs May. DUP leader Arlene Foster told BBC Radio Ulster’s Evening Extra she hoped that the new Tory leader “has a clear understanding of what makes the DUP tick”.
When asked if she trusted Boris Johnson, Mrs Foster evaded giving a clear answer.
Mrs Foster told Sky News that it was important that the next prime minister believed in delivering Brexit and “believes in the Union”.
She said: “Well, I think that now we are going to see a leadership campaign we will listen very carefully to what each of the contenders have to say about Brexit and in particular, from our perspective...the backstop. We want to hear what people have to say about the backstop and we’ll be listening to that very carefully.”
However, perhaps mindful of the backlash there could be if the DUP was seen to be meddling in choosing the Conservative leader, Mrs Foster stressed that the decision was one for Tory members.
The looming Tory leadership election may have an impact on the talks aimed at restoring devolution. With Mrs Bradley likely to be replaced under a new regime, her already eroded authority has been weakened, while Mrs May’s successor will be immediately plunged into attempts to resolve the Brexit chaos before October’s deadline.
Yesterday Boris Johnson, the favourite to succeed Mrs May, set out an ultimatum that under him the UK will leave in October, whether or not it has a deal.
But senior DUP figures were alarmed at how he cast aside his cast iron promises – delivered at the DUP conference last autumn – to resolutely stand against the backstop.
In the last vote on Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement, Mr Johnson did a rapid U-turn to endorse the proposal, despite the fact that it continued to contain the backstop. His change of stance came just hours after Mrs May pledged she would resign if it was passed, clearing the way for a leadership contest in which Mr Johnson was always going to be a favourite.
Last night veteran former UUP MEP Jim Nicholson said that Mrs May had been “a politician of integrity” but that her successor “needs to be a strong unionist”.