British MP Peter Kyle appointed as Labour’s shadow secretary for NI

Removal of Louise Haigh from role not related to comments on Irish unity, MP says

British MP Peter Kyle has been appointed the new shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland for the British Labour party, after Sir Keir Starmer carried out a wide-ranging reshuffle of his top team.

Mr Kyle has replaced Louise Haigh who has been moved to transport – a move which is regarded as a promotion.

Mr Kyle is the MP for Hove and Portslade and was the former shadow schools minister.

In a social media post on Tuesday Ms Haigh rejected the suggestion there was any link between the reshuffle and a recent interview in which she said it was not her job “to be a persuader for the union” and the Labour Party should be neutral if there was a referendum on Irish unity.


Her remarks, which were criticised by unionist politicians, appeared to contradict comments made by her party leader Mr Starmer earlier this year in which he said he would campaign to keep Northern Ireland in the UK in a unity referendum.

“Can put this one to bed right now: I was not moved for restating 25-year-old Labour Party policy,” Ms Haigh said.

Ms Haigh, the MP for Sheffield Heeley, was appointed shadow Northern secretary in April 2020 and was regarded as a politician with a genuine commitment to, and interest in, Northern Ireland.

The chairman of the UK’s Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee, the Conservative MP Simon Hoare, said she had been a “first-class” shadow Northern secretary. “Tough. Principled. Astute. Fearless. I shall miss her contribution to the NI debate,” he said on social media.

The Social Democratic and Labour Party leader in the North Colum Eastwood said he was sorry to hear Ms Haigh was leaving the Northern Ireland portfolio “although we knew she’d be promoted before long. Very rarely does a British politician really get the North – Louise got it and always advocated for a sensible approach from London.”

Ms Haigh said it had been an “honour to have worked with the handful of people in Westminster who care about Northern Ireland.

“Northern Ireland deserves real commitment and advocacy, so often lacking from London,” she said.


Yvette Cooper, a former cabinet minister and the current chairwoman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, returns to Labour's frontbench as shadow home secretary and will take on Priti Patel over the migrant crisis.

Mr Starmer also handed big promotions to two of Labour's rising stars, Bridget Phillipson and Wes Streeting, who take on the roles of shadow education secretary and shadow health secretary.

Jonathan Ashworth, who has had the health brief through the pandemic, is moved to shadow work and pensions secretary.

In other moves, Lisa Nandy will face off against Michael Gove as shadow secretary for levelling up and communities. She will be replaced as shadow foreign secretary by David Lammy.

Former Labour leader Ed Miliband becomes shadow climate change secretary, while Jonathan Reynolds takes on his former portfolio of business, energy and industrial strategy.

“With this reshuffle we are a smaller, more focused shadow cabinet that mirrors the shape of the government we are shadowing,” Mr Starmer said.

“We must hold the Conservative government to account on behalf of the public and demonstrate that we are the right choice to form the next government.”


Earlier it appeared the reshuffle would be overshadowed as tensions resurfaced between Mr Starmer and his deputy, Angela Rayner.

Ms Rayner appeared to be blindsided when news of the reshuffle broke, as she was delivering a keynote speech on Labour’s plans for reforming standards in public life.

“I don’t know the details of the reshuffle or the timing of it,” she said in response to reporters’ questions.

“I’ve been here concentrating on my role now, but six months ago I said again, we need some consistency in how we’re approaching things as an opposition.”

A spokesman for Ms Rayner later said the leader and his deputy had spoken between her morning round of media interviews and her speech at the Institute for Government.

Nick Thomas-Symonds, who was shadow home secretary, takes on international trade in what is ostensibly a demotion.

However, Mr Starmer softened the blow by announcing that he had asked him to head a new shadow cabinet committee leading the party’s response on Brexit.

Elsewhere, Lucy Powell becomes shadow culture secretary, Jim McMahon gets environment and Steve Reed gets justice.

The veteran former minister Pat McFadden becomes shadow treasury chief secretary while former leadership contender Emily Thornberry is the shadow attorney general. Jo Stevens becomes shadow Welsh secretary.

Those leaving include the former shadow education secretary Kate Green, the former shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard and the Blair-era veteran Lord Falconer, who announced he was stepping down as shadow attorney general.

Earlier, Cat Smith, who was shadow minister for young people and one of the last acolytes of Jeremy Corbyn on the Labour frontbench, announced she was quitting, citing the continued withholding of the Labour whip from the former leader.

“This position is utterly unsustainable and it is important that you truly understand how much damage this is causing in constituency Labour parties and amongst ordinary members, a number of whom are no longer campaigning.” she wrote in her letter of resignation.

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, party chairwoman Anneliese Dodds and shadow defence secretary John Healey are among those remaining in their current posts.

In a statement, Mr Starmer said: “I want to thank all those who have left the shadow cabinet today for their great service to me and to our party.

“I look forward to working with the new team to show we are once again a serious party of government, ready to fix the mess the Tories have got the country into and to inspire voters to believe that Britain’s best days are ahead of us.”– Additional reporting PA

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times