Julian Smith says he was drunk when Boris Johnson summoned him to be sent to Northern Ireland

Former Secretary of State Julian Smith has revealed that he had been drinking heavily to drown his sorrows when he received a call from Downing Street, whereupon he was offered the Northern Ireland Secretary position.

Monday, 31st August 2020, 3:35 pm
Julian Smith admitted that he had retired to the pub for a beery afternoon before realising that Downing Street wanted him

Mr Smith had been chief whip to Theresa May and said that he had expected that when Boris Johnson became Prime Minister last July he would lose his position in Cabinet and so he had gone to the pub early in the day.

Speaking yesterday during an extended interview on BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme, the Scottish-born MP for Skipton and Ripon in Yorkshire admitted that he had consumed a considerable volume of alcohol when the call came from the Prime Minister.

“I had left the chief whip’s office that afternoon assuming, as you must do, that that is the end of your time, when there is a change of regime,” he said.

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“I went to the pub; I don’t usually drink during the day but I went to the pub and I drank far too many pints of beer.

“I was meant to be going off to a private dinner and my wife had to ensure that I went to McDonalds first before I arrived at the dinner and then I got a call to go back to Downing Street which was a huge relief – it was one of the last appointments of the day – but secondly a huge concern that I was not in the best condition to meet the Prime Minister.”

Mr Smith said that he “went in, admitted that I had been to the pub to the Prime Minister, and he very kindly offered me this job”.Mr Smith, who said that he came to have a deep affinity with Northern Ireland and has retained a keen interest in it, said that it was “a huge honour”.

Mr Smith said that he had repeatedly listened to a track from German Eurodance group Snap!’s 1992 album The Madman’s Return while attempting to get Stormont restored at the start of this year.

“During the period of the re-establishment of the Northern Ireland Executive and during this period of being chief whip I would often listen on repeat to certain either techno or Eurodance tracks.

“The one that I was listening to most when I was going through the latter end of the Stormont talks when I was trying to persuade Arlene, when I was trying to call and focus on Michelle, when I was rushing down to Derry to see Colum was Rhythm is a Dancer which is a 1992 German Eurodance hit and I would sit in the back of the truck, the protection people in the front, the special adviser fed up with the sight of me from long days beside me, with this on my headphones”.

Mr Smith, who is himself an accomplished pianist and violinist, said that “these sorts of tracks, for whatever reason, I find when I’m needing to focus, when I’m needing to stay disciplined and drive something through, are really, really helpful – I’m sure a psychologist would have a field day”.

Brexit made job offer attractive

Julian Smith has said that one of the key reasons he took the Northern Ireland job was because of its ability to influence the Brexit talks.

Mr Smith, who campaigned against leaving the EU, said: “If I’m honest, the real big motivation of this job was to try to build upon what I had been trying to achieve in the chief whip role to try to resolve this Brexit issue in a way that kept the Good Friday Agreement safe and I did a lot of work behind the scenes with Irish government leaders and used the relationship with Simon Coveney and the work we were doing to restore Stormont to rebuild that relationship”.

It was that work, he said, which then meant that it was possible for Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar to meet to discuss Brexit, something transformative to getting a deal – albeit one which unionists hated because it meant a new Irish Sea trade border.

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