Just hours after being appointed Prime Minister, Boris Johnson last night sacked Karen Bradley as Secretary of State, replacing her with senior Tory MP Julian Smith.
In a sweeping cull of Theresa May’s Cabinet, Mr Johnson, pictured, made a series of appointments which suggest a radical break with much of what happened under his predecessor.
Mrs Bradley was widely expected to lose her job after an 18-month spell in which she was gaffe-prone, often accused of being out of her depth and lost the confidence of every Northern Ireland party but during which she remained ultra-loyal to Mrs May, who kept her in post throughout various controversies.
Last night Mrs Bradley said in a statement that it had been an “enormous privilege” to serve in the role and she was “extremely proud of our achievements”.
Mr Smith, her replacement at the Northern Ireland Office, is a major Westminster figure who was in charge of Mrs May’s repeated – but unsuccessful – efforts to get Tory MPs to vote for her Brexit deal including the backstop, pitting him against the DUP.
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Addressing the DUP conference in 2017, Mr Smith said: “I have been so impressed by the calibre of DUP MPs in Westminster led by Nigel Dodds. They are a credit to the DUP and they are a credit to NI...my door as chief whip is open whenever you want”
Congratulating Mr Smith on his appointment, DUP Leader Arlene Foster last night said it was “important that talks can continue to restore devolution. Our schools and hospitals are crying out for key decisions to be made”.
But Sinn Féin’s chief talks negotiator Conor Murphy said that Mr Smith’s tenure would “end in failure if it is not accompanied by a change in British Government policy”.
In appointing Mr Smith, Northern Ireland has been given its third consecutive pro-remain Secretary of State, following James Brokenshire and Mrs Bradley.
UUP leader Robin Swann said that Mr Smith “must waste no time in taking decisions and bring an end to the indulgence of Sinn Fein and the DUP, to see the Assembly and Executive restored in the near future”. He added: “If there is no agreement to restore devolution then the pace of direct rule decision making should be ramped up.”
Alliance leader Naomi Long said that Mr Johnson had appointed a Cabinet “full of ideologues with little grip on reality.”