Brandon Lewis: Ex-NI secretary's term will be remembered as 'specific and limited'

By Enda McClafferty & Mark Simpson
BBC News NI political editor

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Brandon LewisImage source, Pacemaker
Image caption,
Brandon Lewis' time as Northern Ireland secretary is over after 25 months in the job

Brandon Lewis' stand-out quote came while he was on his feet in the House of Commons in 2020.

Speaking to MPs about the government's plan to break international law in amending the Brexit deal with the EU, he said the plan was to do so in a "very specific and limited way".

His legacy in Northern Ireland could be remembered in the same way.

Limited because he only spent only two-and-a-half years in the job and much of that time focused on dealing with the pandemic.

But there were specific stand-out moments, some of which will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

An uncomfortable U-turn

He repeatedly denied the existence of the Irish sea border as he robustly defended the government's support for the Northern Ireland protocol.

The protocol, part of the 2019 Brexit deal, keeps Northern Ireland in the EU's single market for goods, preventing a hard border with the Republic of Ireland.

But it means checks on some items that come into Northern Ireland from other parts of the UK, creating a trade border in the Irish Sea.

When the government stance on the protocol changed and it demanded its renegotiation, Brandon Lewis needed to talk up the very same Irish sea border which he denied existed.

It was an uncomfortable U-turn and not the only time he was forced to change direction.

Having arrived while the ink was still wet on the New Decade, New Approach deal that restored Stormont, Brandon Lewis adopted a hands-off approach to devolution.

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His predecessor Julian Smith, together with the Irish government, had managed to steer the parties back into government after three years in the wilderness - so there was no obvious role for the new man in the castle.

But that soon changed.

His supporters will point to the interventions he made.

Mr Lewis brought forward Irish language and Ulster Scots legislation at Westminster, after Sinn Féin accused the DUP of reneging on a commitment to pass the laws at Stormont.

He also instructed the Department of Health to commission abortion services in the absence of agreement by the Northern Ireland Executive.

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Victims groups and political parties united over controversial legacy legislations to end all Troubles-related prosecutions

But when it came to the problem of how to deal with the past, Brandon Lewis managed a rare feat for a secretary of state - uniting the political parties and victims groups in Northern Ireland.

That came after his controversial legacy legislation, which proposed to end all Troubles-related prosecutions and close down investigations including inquests and civil cases.

While he did manage to steer Northern Ireland through its centenary year with relatively little controversy, the Northern Ireland Executive collapsed on his watch, with all efforts to put it back together again failing thus far.

Away from politics, Brandon Lewis is keen on cycling.

He'll have more time for that now, after resigning from his job as Northern Ireland secretary, which, to put it mildly, was not an easy ride.