Shailesh Vara: the Remainer who became a hard Brexiteer

New Northern Ireland Secretary is a Ugandan-born Conservative stalwart once described as a future leader of the party

Shailesh Vara (61) is a Ugandan-British politician who was first elected to parliament in 2005, representing the constituency of North West Cambridgeshire. He has since become a stalwart for the party, having been re-elected to parliament in 2010, 2015, 2017 and 2019.

He is married with two children, had a Hindu upbringing, and was educated at Aylesbury Grammar School and Brunel University where he qualified as a solicitor. He has worked in London City and the West End of London, as well as in Hong Kong.

He has formerly served as a minister for Northern Ireland, a minister for justice, a minister in the department for work and pensions and as government whip. In opposition, Vara was shadow deputy leader of the House of Commons.

Vera has some history of backing the wrong horses, having supported the ultimately unsuccessful Conservative Party leadership bids of Michael Gove in 2016 and Dominic Raab three years later.


Vara was also opposed to Brexit prior to the referendum in June 2016 but resigned from his role at the Northern Ireland Office in 2018 as he did not believe the draft Brexit withdrawal agreement honoured the outcome of the referendum, but instead left the UK in a “half-way house” obeying EU customs rules.

As he resigned after just five months in the job, he said the “constitutional integrity of the UK must be respected”.

He warned that Theresa May’s deal would leave Northern Ireland subject to a “different relationship with the EU from the rest of the UK”, a view which could be indicative of the position he may take on the Northern Ireland protocol.

Prior to entering parliament, he held various posts in the Conservative Party including vice-chairman of the party during 2001-2005.

At the Conservative Party conference in 2000, he was awarded the accolade of official “rising star” of the party, with Lord Alexander of Weedon describing him as a “future Conservative Party leader”.

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter