One day every Tory will get to be Northern Ireland Secretary, or at least that’s how it feels at times.
t was expected that the current Secretary of State would be promoted as a reward for his loyalty to Boris Johnson, it was just after 6pm on Wednesday before he entered Downing Street, one of the last serving cabinet ministers to learn his fate.
Brandon Lewis hasn’t really put his stamp on the job so far, that isn’t entirely his fault given that the majority of his tenure was spent in lockdown with travel restrictions in place.
I suppose we should start with the good news first.
Mr Lewis has at times been forced to make decisions that Stormont simply found impossible to reach a compromise on.
They included pushing ahead with outstanding social issues agreed in New Decade New Approach.
Earlier this year the government published regulations allowing the Northern Ireland secretary the direct commissioning of central abortion services.
While abortion was decriminalised in 2019, full services have been stalled by the Health Minister Robin Swann who has said it is a cross-cutting matter that needed to be approved by the whole executive and the DUP who passed a motion to reject the changes.
This put the MP for Great Yarmouth in direct conflict with the DUP, given his party very recently shared a special relationship with the Northern Irish unionists this would have required resilience.
The issue over the Irish language and cultural package, again agreed in the New Decade New Approach deal was also something that the Secretary of State was willing to implement over the local parties’ heads at the behest of Sinn Fein.
This also caused fury among unionists, who while agreeing to the deal to restore power sharing in January 2020, quickly found out this was an approach not necessarily in line with their voter base.
It’ll be interesting to see if Mr Lewis follows through with that commitment by the October deadline.
In person Mr Lewis is a very nice man, he comes across as friendly, clearly very proud of his family and his home constituency.
Well used to dealing with the lobby journalists in Westminster he takes any interaction with the local media in his stride.
But he has never won over any hearts and minds and faced more criticism than praise.
It doesn’t help that his predecessor, Saint Julian Smith of Skipton and Ripon could charm the birds from the trees and had endeared himself to people all over Northern Ireland, some of whom continue to mourn his departure.
Despite only being in the post for six months, Mr Smith could do no wrong and remains the most popular Secretary of State since Mo Mowlam among the people of Northern Ireland.
It helped that he was ousted before the sea border became such a major issue amongst unionists, leaving Mr Lewis to be the British government’s representative at a time of huge upheaval.
The anti-protocol movement is small when it comes to street protests and rallies, but the political pressure from the DUP in Westminster is a challenge the Northern Ireland minister will have to face.
But it will be his method of dealing with our Troubled past that the Northern Ireland Secretary remains best known for.
Last March as the world was coming to grips with a global pandemic and the news cycle was concentrated on the Covid crisis, Mr Lewis stood up in Westminster and made an announcement on plans to deal with Northern Ireland’s legacy.
It spoke of truth recovery rather than criminal investigations saying the government intended to “deliver on our promise to protect veterans from vexatious claims”.
The announcement did not get the attention it deserved at the time and paved the way for what we now know are plans for a statute of limitations to end all future prosecutions.
The government’s command paper on this also spoke of plans to end all Troubles inquests and civil cases, future and currently pending.
This is a decision that has managed that rare feat in Northern Ireland and united politicians of all shades against the move which has outraged victims.
With the summer recess over expect move on this legislation soon, with the government determined to push ahead with the controversial policy.
There were rumours early on Wednesday that Gavin Williamson may have been Brandon Lewis’s replacement.
The former Education Secretary was one of the first people to publicly float the idea of a statute of limitations for all sides of the Northern Ireland conflict.
It would have been a controversial posting, but the rumours were incorrect, and Mr Williamson was in fact sacked from his post and not moved to Northern Ireland, a compassionate move by the prime minister for which I’m sure Mr Williamson will be forever grateful.
Then came the rumour that Jacob Rees Mogg might be heading across the Sea Border, the poshest man in Westminster if not the poshest man in the world in Belfast?
Another false alarm and just after 6.30pm Downing Street announced Brandon Lewis was to remain in post, the outstanding issues remain firmly in his in-tray and his alone.