In Depth

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley admits ignorance of Northern Ireland politics

Minister reveals she was unaware nationalists did not vote for unionists and vice versa before getting the brief

The Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley has prompted bewilderment and consternation by revealing she was almost entirely ignorant of the country’s political divisions before entering the job.

In an interview with The House magazine Bradley said was unaware that nationalists did not vote for unionists and that unionists did not vote for nationalists – a detail that The Guardian describes as “the most elementary fact about Northern Ireland politics”.

Bradley explained: “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 election within their own community. Actually, the unionist parties fight the elections against each other in unionist communities and nationalists in nationalist communities.”

Bradley’s admission has been met with astonishment online both at her lack of knowledge and her decision to reveal it now.

The Tory minister also said her impression of Northern Ireland had been shaped by the Troubles, but she was pleasantly surprised when she got there.

“I admit, and people criticise me, ‘you’d never come to Northern Ireland before you were appointed to the job’. I had no idea how wonderful Northern Ireland was,” she said.

“I was slightly scared of Northern Ireland because of my impression and images from 20 years ago. That is not the place that it is today. Today it is vibrant, energetic – over 50% of the population are aged 40 or under. It is an exciting place to be.”

Jenny Chapman, Labour's shadow Brexit minister, called the admissions embarrassing. “Given this worrying lack of basic knowledge about Northern Ireland, it’s no wonder the Tories don’t seem to understand the vital importance of preventing a return of a hard border there,” she told the House magazine.

But others online argued it showed a refreshing sense of honesty from a politician.

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