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Former NI Secretary 'regrets' saying she didn't know that nationalists did not vote for unionist parties

Karen Bradley made the comments in September 2018.

Karen Bradley (file photo)
Karen Bradley (file photo)
Image: PA Images

FORMER NORTHERN IRELAND Secretary Karen Bradley has expressed regret at the “hurt” caused when she said she was unaware that nationalists did not vote for unionist parties before taking office.

Bradley was also forced into an apology to the UK’s parliament yesterday for saying that deaths caused by police and soldiers during the Troubles were not crimes.

The Conservative MP served as NI Secretary for 18 months and was replaced in July 2019 by Julian Smith, who in turn was replaced by Brandon Lewis in February this year.

Lewis himself made headlines earlier this month after admitting that 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 the North, in a bid to protect trading arrangements.

Speaking in September 2018, Bradley admitted that she didn’t “understand some of the deep-seated and deep-rooted issues that there are in Northern Ireland” before becoming NI Secretary.

“I didn’t understand things like when elections are fought, for example, in Northern Ireland – people who are nationalists don’t vote for unionist parties and vice versa.”

Her admission prompted concerns about how she had been appointed to the post without knowing that the region was politically divided in such a way.

But commenting last night as MPs considered amendments to the Internal Market Bill, Bradley stressed the importance of language – as she explained why she was “undecided” about how she will vote.

She told the House of Commons: “I know more than many just how important language is in Northern Ireland.

“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. I have much to be proud of but I regret having hurt people, and that language is so important.

“So can I urge everybody in this chamber, from the frontbench, the opposition frontbench, and all around to remember the language we use because our friends and allies are listening to what we say.”

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Raising concerns over certain sections of the Bill, Bradley also said the UK government should not ask MPs to vote for an illegal law as a negotiating tactic.

“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?”

Meanwhile, former prime minister Theresa May said she would not support the new legislation, accusing the government of acting “recklessly and irresponsibly” over its implementation.

Numerous Conservative MPs cautioned against adopting the most contentious measures in the legislation, but only two ended up voting against it while 29 abstained – including May.

Contains reporting from Press Association and - © AFP 2020

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