Public Affairs

The Shadow Secretary of State

Labour’s Peter Kyle MP was the subject of much attention recently when he stated that he would not hesitate to call a border poll if certain conditions were met, but who is the Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland?

In September 2022, Kyle told the Labour Party conference that if Labour were to come to power, he would set out the criteria for calling a border poll. While Kyle failed to give any further detail on what such a criteria might look like, his pledge that he “would not play games” if the circumstances emerge as set out in the Good Friday Agreement, raised the eyebrows of those who see the Conservative Party’s appeal to the electorate declining.

Kyle, whose intervention was described as “unhelpful and ill-timed” by Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie MLA, did stress that the results of the census showing that Catholics now outnumbered Protestants in Northern Ireland would not suffice, adding: “When we move towards the point where those circumstances set out in the Good Friday Agreement start to emerge and it becomes a priority for the people of Northern Ireland, I will act.”

While far from a foregone conclusion, the post-Brexit, post-Boris Johnson appeal of the Conservative Party appears much lower than when they swept to power in 2019. The next General Election is not scheduled until January 2025, but economic circumstances of late suggest one could be called much sooner. The possibility of Kyle being a future Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the coming years is not unthinkable. So who is he?

Kyle is an MP for Hove, having originally been elected in 2015. In opposition he has previously been charged with shadowing the education and justice portfolios.

Having worked as an aid worker in eastern Europe and the Balkans, Kyle then moved on to work as a policymaker in the Cabinet Office, with a focus on social exclusion. Prior to being elected he was deputy Chief Executive of ACEVO, an umbrella body for the voluntary sector, and head of youth employment charity Working for Youth.

An avid remainer, in 2019 Kyle proposed an amendment to then-Prime Minister Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill that would see the Bill approved on the basis of a return to the public for a confirmatory vote. Although falling short of support, on its second attempt the amendment was just 12 votes short of passing and Kyle advocated the position become Labour policy.

Kyle, who was appointed a vice-chair of Labour Friends of Israel in September 2020, supported Owen Smith MP in his failed attempt to replace Jeremy Corbyn MP in 2016 and called for Corbyn to resign following the 2019 General Election. He initially backed Jess Philips MP to replace Corbyn before the Birmingham Yardley MP withdrew from the race.

Alongside the shadow secretary of state, official opposition in the Northern Ireland Office also includes shadow minister, Tonia Antoniazzi MP and shadow spokesperson, Angela Evans Smith, a member of the House of Lords.

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