New Northern Secretary makes first visit to North – The Irish Times

The new Northern Ireland Secretary is in the North on Thursday for his first visit since his appointment earlier this week.

Chris Heaton-Harris is due to meet Sinn Féin and the DUP for discussions that are expected to cover the restoration of the Stormont Assembly, the Northern Ireland protocol and the cost-of-living crisis.

However, Mr Heaton-Harris will not meet Northern Ireland’s other main parties — Alliance, the UUP and SDLP. It is understood to be down to diary pressures and that he intends to meet them in the near future.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster programme on Thursday, the SDLP MP Claire Hanna said she had spoken to Mr Heaton-Harris on Wednesday and her party would “work constructively with whoever the UK government send to try and get good outcomes.

“I didn’t ask him why he wasn’t meeting the SDLP ― I’ve met Chris Heaton-Harris before and we will again.”

The SDLP has criticised the appointment of Mr Heaton-Harris and the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) minister Steve Baker — both of whom are former chairmen of the Conservative Party’s Eurosceptic European Research Group (ERG).

“Liz Truss has appointed two men who are very much associated with a very hardline Brexit view,” Ms Hanna said.

“We do think it’s a concerning appointment. There are optimistic interpretations that she’s sending a hardliner in to kind of look tough and do the deal, but at the moment it doesn’t send a good signal about her willingness to work with people who don’t support a hardline Brexit and to work with the EU.”

Challenged in the House of Commons on Wednesday by MPs who questioned whether he would work with all political parties, Mr Heaton-Harris said he would “work with everybody” to try and resolve the problems facing Northern Ireland.

His visit comes as the UK prime minister, Liz Truss, is due to outline measures to limit energy costs for consumers on Thursday.

It is unclear how this will apply in Northern Ireland, which has a different energy market and lacks an Executive to distribute any additional funds that may be allocated through the so-called Barnett consequential process.

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