When Theresa May, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, appointed Karen Bradley to oversee the North Ireland file in January, there was some concern about the decision because Bradley had never been to the region before. In an interview with PoliticsHome, Bradley did little to assuage worries about her preparedness.
“I freely admit that when I started this job, I didn’t understand some of the deep-seated and deep-rooted issues that there are in Northern Ireland,” Bradley told the wesbsite. “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. So, the parties fight for the election within their own community. Actually, the unionist parties fight the elections against each other in unionist communities and nationalists in nationalist communities.”
The divide between nationalists and unionists has structured politics in Northern Ireland for many decades. This divide is itself rooted in centuries old battles over nationalism and religion. Bradley’s lack of rudimentary information is all the more alarming given the history of political violence in the region, which many fear could flare up again as an side effect of Brexit. Ongoing diplomacy over the implementation of Brexit threatens fundamental issues of border sharing between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which had been settled in the Good Friday Accord of 1998.
Jenny Chapman, a Labour member of parliament who serves as her party’s Shadow Brexit minister, was not impressed with Bradley’s remarks. “This is embarrassing from the Northern Ireland Secretary,” Chapman said. “Given this worrying lack of basic knowledge about Northern Ireland, its no wonder the Tories don’t seem to understand the vital importance of preventing a return of a hard border there.”