New SoS abandons holiday

New Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Julian Smith in Londonderry today. 'Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
New Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Julian Smith in Londonderry today. 'Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
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The new Northern Ireland Secretary has hit back at comments by Ireland’s deputy premier after he accused Boris Johnson of setting the UK on a collision course with the European Union.

In his first visit to Northern Ireland since his appointment, Julian Smith denied the allegation and said the PM is “very clear” that he wants to reach a deal with the EU.

Speaking after the first meeting between Irish and British government ministers since Mr Johnson moved into Number 10, Tanaiste Simon Coveney said the new PM’s comments on Brexit so far had been “unhelpful”.

Mr Coveney said: “He seems to have made a deliberate decision to set Britain on a collision course with the EU and Ireland in relation to the Brexit negotiations. Only he can answer the question as to why he is doing that.

“From a Brexit negotiating perspective, it was a bad day yesterday and we will have to wait and see if that message coming from London changes in the weeks ahead.”

But Mr Smith said: “I think we need to find solutions, particularly for the issue of the border, but the Prime Minister was very, very clear to his Cabinet yesterday that he wants to get a deal done.

“But we do need to have structured conversations with the EU and I think they are open to doing that, I had a very, very good conversation with Simon today.”

Earlier on Friday, Mr Smith separately met the five main parties at Stormont. He said he hopes they can meet again next week to get talks on restoring powersharing moving.

“We have got to get these talks up and running, it has been going on far too long,” he said.

“I had hoped for a holiday but I am going to be making sure that I push as hard as I possibly can to get these talks going because there are a whole range of issues that need resolving, the biggest issue is to make sure that public services and basic important decisions are made for every citizen in Northern Ireland.”

Alliance leader Naomi Long said her party laid bare to Mr Smith the impact of a no-deal Brexit on Northern Ireland, both politically and socially. SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon said: “We had one simple but important question – is he going to be part of the solution or is he going to be part of the problem?”