Former Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith has denied claims that unacceptable elements of the Stormont restoration deal were behind his sacking, saying that the deal had prime minister Boris Johnson’s full approval.
After Smith was removed during Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle last Thursday, speculation was rife that Johnson believed the Stormont deal - brokered by Smith to restore the devolved power-sharing government in Northern Ireland - contained unacceptable elements relating to the legacy of the Troubles.
The deal commits to bringing forward proposals on legacy within 100 days, which contravenes a Conservative election manifesto pledge to quell “vexatious prosecutions” of British veterans.
Smith wrote in the Spectator: "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.”
When the deal was announced, Johnson himself said that it provided a “balance” between supporting veterans and allowing victims of the Troubles to pursue justice and seek closure.
Both of Smith’s predecessors, James Brokenshire and Karen Bradley, had been unable to restore the legislative assembly in Northern Ireland, which endured a three-year hiatus before restoration.
In his Spectator piece, Smith added that he expected that he may be removed from government ahead of the reshuffle taking place.
He said: "My suspicions were raised by Tuesday…I received a fumbled brief [from my close protection team] about what would happen 'should things go badly' for me in the reshuffle; and finally, I could no longer reach the team on the normal phone due to 'battery problems’.
"After a few side glances one private secretary told me that he had got wind via the civil service 'net' that I should be in for 08:00 GMT on Thursday.”
Smith had been in the role for 204 days, and was replaced by Brandon Lewis, the former Conservative party chairman.