Former NI Secretary urges caution over Brexit bill language

Former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Karen Bradley. Credit: UTV

Senior Conservative MP Karen Bradley has expressed regret for hurt caused by things she said as Northern Ireland Secretary of State as she urged caution over the language of politics.

Ms Bradley, who spent 18 months in the role, faced criticism for comments including saying she did not know that nationalists in the region did not tend to vote for unionist parties before taking office.

She also had to apologise in Parliament for saying deaths caused by police and soldiers during the Troubles were not crimes.

Ms Bradley was replaced in July 2019 by Julian Smith, who has since also been replaced – by current NI Secretary Brandon Lewis.

And it was Mr Lewis who made headlines earlier this month when he admitted a key piece of Brexit legislation would “break international law” in a “very specific and limited way”.

The United Kingdom Internal Market Bill seeks to override elements of the UK’s Brexit deal with Brussels in relation to Northern Ireland, in a bid to protect trading arrangements.

Speaking as MPs considered amendments to the Bill, Ms Bradley stressed the importance of language - as she explained why she was “undecided” about how she will vote.

“I know more than many just how important language is in Northern Ireland,” she told the Commons.

“I have said things, I’ve misspoken and I’ve made throwaway comments and I have regretted them enormously. And the reason I regretted them enormously is because they hurt people.

“People who have been through more hurt than any of us could ever imagine were hurt by words I said. And I regret that point more than just about anything I've ever done in my political career.”

Can I urge everybody in this chamber…to remember the language we use, because our friends and allies are listening to what we say. And they’re not listening to the intricacies of amendment 64 or new clause three, they don’t really know or care. What they hear is that headline, they hear us saying we're going to break international law and we're prepared to do it - and that's really powerful.

Karen Bradley, Conservative MP

Raising concerns over certain sections of the Bill, Ms Bradley also said: “The Government should not ask MPs to vote for an illegal law as a negotiating tactic.

“This part (five) should be in a separate Bill, if these clauses are needed, and it should be debated separately. It should not be polluting what is an otherwise good and necessary piece of law.

“And all possible steps to avoid needing these clauses should be taken.

“So, I say to the minister I'm undecided today as to which way I will vote this evening because I respect the Government has moved and compromised, and I do understand that's a difficult thing for governments to do.

“But I ask the minister to give me clarity - if I walk through the lobbies today, am I breaking the law? If I walk through the lobbies today, will the law be broken as a result of me doing this?”