Theresa May’s voice broke as she reached the end of her resignation speech. Known as the ‘Maybot’ throughout her premiership her exterior finally cracked. She sounded close to tears as she said it had, ‘been the honour of her life’ to ‘serve the country that I love.’ She wasn’t this emotional during the Windrush scandal, a horrifying disaster of her own making.
May’s resignation starts the bell ringing for the Conservative Party leadership contest. Boris Johnson, Andrea Leadsom, Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove are all jockeying for position. The winner gets to pretend to be sincere when they go back to Brussels to try to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement.
While the burr of the leadership contenders continues in the background, many in Northern Ireland will be wondering what is going to happen to Karen Bradley. A May loyalist, she is one the Prime Minister’s supporters in the cabinet. It’s doubtful whether she’ll survive the incoming change of office.
Hapless would be too kind a word to describe our current Secretary of State. She said in an interview with the BBC that she didn’t know people in Northern Ireland voted along orange and green lines. We’re also quite “scary” too. She described the actions of the British Army during the Troubles as ‘dignified’ while the Ballymurphy Inquest was being held in Belfast. Such was the outcry over her words, she had to meet victims’ families to apologise.
Theresa May is known for giving robotic answers to questions but Bradley turns it into a horrifying art form. Everything is a devolved matter. The Northern Ireland Office is a benign, powerless void, bravely buying lanyards to support the LGBT community while the natives fight amongst themselves.
The Supreme Court said, obiter, last year that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws breached the European Convention of Human Rights. Bradley said the British Government would only act if the European Court of Human Rights said there was a breach. Who knew the government in this country cared this much about the European Court? It only took twelve years for minor changes to be made to the the law regarding voting rights for prisoners.
The Secretary of State has still not implemented legislation to compensate victims of Historical and Institutional Abuse. Bradley is insisting that Northern Ireland’s political parties need to answer further questions before she can do anything. Victims, who have already had to face a grueling legal process, staged protests outside Castle Coole on the 21st May while Bradley was there for a royal garden party.
Only this week, Bradley told victims of the Blood Infection Scandal that devolution was the best way to resolve the difference between financial support between England and Northern Ireland. One victim said that they were being used as a “political football.”
Even before her most recent comments, Bradley was already unpopular with the political parties. She was seen as uninterested, disengaged and unwilling to put the hard work in to get the talks process started. On this Northern Ireland’s politicians are united: Karen Bradley is a terrible Secretary of State.
Bradley is painted as a character from the Thick of It, incompetent rather than malicious. After the past few weeks I’m starting to doubt that assessment. I think the cruelty is the point.
We have long memories in Northern Ireland. The legacy Theresa May leaves behind will be picked over for generations. Do us all a favour, Prime Minster, take Karen Bradley with you on the way out.
Sarah is a writer and lawyer from Belfast.