Julian Smith has been sacked as Northern Ireland Secretary as part of the prime minister’s cabinet reshuffle.
Mr Smith was appointed in July 2019 and lasted 204 days in the role.
He took over from Karen Bradley who was sacked by the new prime minister Boris Johnson after 562 days as NI secretary.
Mr Smith oversaw a talks process that led to the Northern Ireland parties agreeing a deal to restore a power-sharing government at Stormont last month.
He was also praised for his role in helping legislation to provide compensation to historical abuse victims pass through Parliament.
He said serving the people of Northern Ireland “has been the biggest privilege”.
He added: “The warmth and support from people across NI has been incredible. Thank you so much.”
So it’s farewell Julian Smith and we’ll be getting a fourth NI Secretary in under four years.
This will be a hugely unpopular decision in both Belfast and Dublin, and will leave some wondering why the prime minister would sack a secretary of state who actually managed to do what seemed impossible – get devolution restored.
But remember, Julian Smith and Boris Johnson had never seen eye to eye – on Brexit and other NI matters.
Mr Smith had also been known for fighting his corner in cabinet, rather than being quietly loyal.
In his short-lived time in this complicated place, Julian Smith not only stopped the ship from sinking but was helping to chart a new course.
He will surely be a tough act to follow.
Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Leo Varadkar called Mr Smith “one of Britain’s finest politicians of our time”.
Irish Foreign Minister and Tánaiste (deputy first minister) Simon Coveney said Mr Smith had been “such an effective secretary of state for NI at a time of real challenge and risk”.
He added: “Without your leadership I don’t believe NI would have a government today.
“Thank you Julian Smith for your trust, friendship and courage; the UK and Ireland can look to the future with more confidence because of it.”
DUP leader Arlene Foster said she had spoken to Mr Smith on Thursday morning to thank him for his help in getting devolution restored.
“We may not have always agreed (we did sometimes) but his dedication to the role was incredible,” she said.
“Best wishes to him and his family. Always welcome in Fermanagh.”
Northern Ireland ‘Very concerning’
Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said she was writing to the government for an urgent meeting with the incoming secretary of state.
“In that meeting, Sinn Féin will take the opportunity to raise the financial commitments made by the British government in the New Decade New Approach agreement only weeks ago,” she said.
“Reports from London that Julian Smith was sacked as a result of commitments made to bring forward legislation to implement the legacy bodies agreed at Stormont House are very concerning for victims of the conflict and their families.”
In a tweet, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said that “sacking the most successful secretary of state in a decade shows Johnson’s dangerous indifference to us”.
Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken said no-one could question Mr Smith’s dedication to the job.
“Julian Smith`s successor should take a leaf out of his book and spend time in Northern Ireland getting to know the place and its people,” he added.
“The last thing Northern Ireland needs is a Boris Johnson ‘yes’ man or woman.”
The chairman of campaign group Survivors North West, Jon McCourt, paid tribute to Mr Smith and tweeted that the abuse compensation legislation would “not have crossed the line without your committed and passionate support”.
While Mr Smith’s effectiveness has been widely praised, more critical voices argue he became secretary of state at a more opportune time than his immediate predecessors, with both the DUP and Sinn Féin eager to return to government at Stormont.
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People Before Profit assembly member Gerry Carroll said that no Conservative NI Secretary had ever been good for Northern Ireland, and accused Mr Smith’s party of “launching economic war on working class communities”.
Mr Smith, who has been an MP for Skipton and Ripon since 2010, served Theresa May as chief whip, a job in which he was unable to guide her proposed EU Withdrawal Agreement through the House of Commons.
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