Some politicians in Northern Ireland have criticised the appointment of a second anti-EU MP, the self-styled ‘Brexit hard man’ Steve Baker, to the Northern Ireland Office as a minister.
SDLP MP Claire Hanna accused Prime Minister Liz Truss of sending a “destructive message” to the EU.
Optimists, on the other hand, believe there is a chance that Ms Truss is seeking to tie the critics of any likely compromise with Brussels to the end agreement.
Ms Hanna called the appointment “obnoxious” and a “red flag” and evidence that the new PM is “continuing down the diplomatically ignorant route of her predecessor”.
Like the new Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton Harris, Mr Baker is a former executive officer of the so-called European Research Group, a taxpayer funded group of right-wing, anti-EU Tory backbenchers.
Mr Baker, who worked at doomed merchant bank Lehman Brothers between 2006 and 2008, organised the Brexiteer revolt that brought down then Prime Minister Theresa May and describes the Northern Ireland Protocol as “a thorn in the side of relations between us and Ireland”.
“Liz Truss could have taken the opportunity to build bridges
and make allies in the early days of her premiership.”
He supports the British Government’s plans to breach the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Ms Hanna suggested Ms Truss had foregone an opportunity to “build bridges” in her first days as Prime Minister.
“The appointment of another hard-line Eurosceptic to a senior position in the Northern Ireland Office is a red flag when issues related to the protocol remain politically sensitive,” she said.
“Liz Truss has an opportunity to make the case for a negotiated resolution with the European Union in the interests of people across these islands. These appointments seem in stark contrast to that objective.
“Privatising this issue to the DUP and ERG has not only failed in the past, it has brought down previous governments.
“Elevating Steve Baker to NIO in particular is an obnoxious decision that will send a destructive message to the European Commission and to parties in Northern Ireland.
“Liz Truss could have taken the opportunity to build bridges and make allies in the early days of her premiership. Instead she seems to be continuing down the diplomatically ignorant route of her predecessor.”
Former Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith – who is held in very high regard across Northern Ireland – congratulated Mr Baker on his new role.
He urged the new minister to work with Chris Heaton-Harris – who now heads up the department – to “push urgently for a compromise deal” with the EU to deliver a revised protocol and restore power sharing in Northern Ireland.