Julian Smith in veiled swipe at Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings after Cabinet sacking
Julian Smith has insisted Boris Johnson read and agreed to the deal to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland amid claims he was sacked over its contents.
The former Northern Ireland Secretary took a thinly-veiled swipe at Number 10 and top aide Dominic Cummings following reports he had been booted out of the Cabinet for not fully briefing the Prime Minister on the agreement.
Mr Smith was one of the names culled in Mr Johnson’s reshuffle last week, despite earning plaudits from both nationalists and unionists for helping to broker the New Decade, New Approach pact.
The agreement saw the return of power-sharing in Northern Ireland after three years, and was hailed by Mr Johnson at the time as a “fair and balanced deal in the interests of everyone”.
However, The Times reported on the eve of the reshuffle that Mr Johnson had been “blindsided” by the deal, which included an investigation into alleged crimes committed by British soldiers during the Troubles.
“There is concern about the way he’s been operating,” a senior source told the paper.
Writing in the Spectator magazine, Mr Smith rejected that version of events.
He said: “On Wednesday night the Times reported my expected fate, suggesting the reason for the chop was that Downing Street had been unaware of key details of the deal to restore Stormont.
“I was grateful for the opportunity to confirm to the journalist that a PM does not sign off a key government deal without reading it first, alongside a phalanx of talented PJ Masks aides.”
The reference to ‘PJ Masks’ comes after Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister's most senior aide, openly mocked the Cabinet by suggesting it could be replaced with characters from the children’s TV show.
In bizarre remarks, he told reporters: “PJ Masks will do a greater job than all of them put together."
In a separate piece for the New Statesman, Mr Smith meanwhile made a dig at the Prime Minister’s plan to connect Northern Ireland and Scotland with a bridge across the North Channel.
Number 10 confirmed this month that work was “underway” on the project, with Government officials said to be carrying out a “proper piece of work” on the proposal.
But Mr Smith suggested the Government may want focus on other priorities to boost Northern Ireland.
He said: “Of course, like all well behaved former cabinet ministers, I would never express scepticism about visionary ideas such as the proposed bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland. Underlying it is a commitment to infrastructure and innovation outside of London and the south of England that should be encouraged.
“However, the priority now must be decisive and cost-effective intervention in Northern Ireland’s roads, technology and, less glamorously, the country’s failing sewage system.”