Brandon Lewis ‘shamefully placated the DUP’, Michelle O’Neill says

EU says resignation of Boris Johnson will not cause it to change stance on Northern Ireland impasse

The outgoing Northern Ireland Secretary has been criticised for having “shamefully placated the DUP”.

Sinn Féin Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill was critical of Brandon Lewis as he joined the ranks of Conservative ministers leaving office in a move against UK prime minister Boris Johnson. Mr Johnson has since agreed to resign as prime minister. He has appointed Shailesh Vara as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Ms O’Neill claimed Mr Lewis “abandoned any pretence of acting with the ‘rigorous impartiality’ required of him under the Good Friday Agreement”.

“He has shamefully placated the DUP by giving them political cover in denying the electorate the democratic representation they are entitled to,” she said.

The Stormont Assembly remains collapsed amid a row over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The DUP is refusing to nominate ministers to the executive or a speaker to allow the Assembly to function until the UK government takes action on the post-Brexit arrangements.

Elsewhere the European Commission declined on Thursday to comment on Boris Johnson’s expected resignation as UK prime minister and said its stand in a post-Brexit impasse over Northern Ireland would not be affected by political developments in London.

“On the events in the UK... we have no comment on democratic processes in third countries,” a spokesperson for the EU’s executive told a news briefing.

A second spokesman said there would be no shift in the EU’s approach to the Northern Ireland Protocol that was part of Britain’s divorce agreement with the EU.

“From our point of view, the political developments do not change our position on the protocol or the way in which we work with our British counterparts on Northern Ireland,” he said.

“Our position is that we should endeavour to seek solutions as regards to the implementation of the protocol.”

Meanwhile SDLP leader Colum Eastwood welcomed that Mr Johnson is to resign as prime minister, claiming he has “debased the office he holds”.

“He has fundamentally and indelibly damaged public confidence in politics and public life and his death grip on power has prolonged a period of government that will be characterised by law-breaking, scandal and sleaze,” Mr Eastwood said.

“He should now leave government immediately.”

Ms O’Neill was also critical of Mr Lewis over his proposed bill for dealing with Northern Ireland’s troubled past.

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill offers an effective amnesty for Troubles crimes for those who co-operate with an information body.

Ms O’Neill said: “He has undermined the Good Friday Agreement and political stability, and his actions gave us a daily reminder why those with no mandate or votes here will only ever act in their own political interests, and not ours.

“The political stability of the North cannot be a hostage to the Tory-in fighting, Westminster chaos and continued DUP disruption.”

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie expressed concern at the vacancy, saying with the Stormont Assembly remaining collapsed, Northern Ireland is now being run by the civil service.

He described the situation as “as bad as it gets”.

Mr Lewis announced his resignation early on Thursday, tweeting a copy of his resignation letter in which he told Mr Johnson that he had “given you, and those around you, the benefit of the doubt”.

“We are, however, now past the point of no return,” Mr Lewis said.

“I cannot sacrifice my personal integrity to defend things as they stand now. It is clear that our Party, parliamentary colleagues, volunteers and the whole country, deserve better.”

Northern Ireland office minister Conor Burns indicated he will remain in post, tweeting that he will lead for the government at a meeting of the British-Irish Council.

“It is vital at this time that the job @NIOgov continues to be done,” Mr Burns said.

“I am committed to continuing to serve the wonderful people of Northern Ireland to the best of my ability at this tough time.”

Earlier, Mr Beattie told the BBC: “We’re spectators here looking at what’s going as this omnishambles presents itself to us.

“We have no proper functioning government in the UK, we have no secretary of state, we have no Assembly and we have no Executive and we are being run by the civil service now as it stands, and if Northern Ireland or anywhere else in the UK were to have a major incident, I doubt we could even get the COBR committee to come together to be able to create any form of response.”

Alliance MP Stephen Farry described a “completely crazy situation” and described Boris Johnson as a “narcissistic self-entitled fool”.

“The fact it even got to this point is damning in itself,” he said, and also questioned the DUP’s silence on Mr Johnson.

Prominent victims campaigner Raymond McCord welcomed the resignation of Mr Lewis.

Mr McCord said: “He [Mr Lewis] has betrayed the victims of the Troubles with the Legacy Bill that gives an amnesty to murderers.

“Brandon Lewis decided to reward the murderers with amnesties for the murders they committed, and punish the victims and their families by ensuring all routes to justice and even civil cases are closed down.

“He insulted all victims by claiming it would help us.

“He certainly will not be missed by victims.” - PA/Reuters