Northern Ireland news

New secretary of state Brandon Lewis a 'safe pair of hands'

Secretary of state Brandon Lewis arriving at 10 Downing Street for the first cabinet meeting since the reshuffle. Picture by Stefan Rousseau, Press Association

NEW secretary of state Brandon Lewis is seen as a "safe pair of hands" who is unlikely to act against the wishes of Number 10, a political journalist in his home constituency has said.

The 48-year-old former Conservative Party chairman was announced as the new secretary of state on Thursday after Julian Smith was sacked in a cabinet reshuffle.

The MP for Great Yarmouth has held several roles in government including in housing, policing and immigration.

He also has some experience of Brexit in government. As security minister and Brexit deputy he had responsibility for the EU withdrawal agreement bill.

Richard Porritt, politics editor of the Eastern Daily Press, said the secretary of state post is the most high-profile government role Mr Lewis has ever held.

"I think he's got quite big shoes to fill but I think he'll do a good job," he said.

Mr Lewis backed Remain in the 2016 referendum and was also a supporter of Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit withdrawal agreement in 2019.

However, he said he would respect the outcome of the referendum.

Mr Porritt said although Mr Lewis was a remainer "like a lot of Conservatives he has had to be pragmatic about it".

He said Mr Lewis is seen as a personable figure in Great Yarmouth and has been supportive of key issues including the need to build better transport links between Norfolk and the rest of Britain.

"In his constituency he has managed to have big government jobs and still be quite visible. He is still accessible and still holds surgeries. It's not always what you would expect - for someone to be still part of the community," he said.

"Notably within the party he's seen as a likeable guy."

Mr Lewis had phone calls with PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne and key politicians including Tánaiste Simon Coveney, Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill and DUP leader Arlene Foster yesterday morning before the first meeting of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's new cabinet.

Mr Smith was sacked just a month after he brokered the deal that restored a power-sharing administration at Stormont.

Speaking for the first time since his sacking, he said his dismissal was "not a surprise".

“I think my future plans are things like going to the pub," he said.

"I am now going to my constituency. I wish the new cabinet and new secretary of state all the best of luck."

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