Coronavirus: Brandon Lewis rejects Sinn Féin 'corporate greed' claim

By Mark Devenport
BBC NI Political Editor

  • Published
Brandon LewisImage source, AFP/getty images

The NI secretary has rejected an assertion by a Sinn Féin minister that "right-wing elements" in the cabinet are prepared to put "corporate greed over public welfare".

Declan Kearney was writing in An Phoblacht about the UK easing coronavirus restrictions "prematurely".

Brandon Lewis told BBC News NI, Mr Kearney "may be reading a bit too much into some newspaper reports".

He said the economic and physical health of the UK are interlinked.

Mr Lewis said the two things are were not "mutually exclusive".

"All our decisions at every stage of this virus have been around the medical and scientific advice, about what is in the best interests of the health of the people in this country," he said.

"The economic side is why we have put such a big package of support out there for businesses and the NI executive has been doing their work around that.

"I talk to businesses in Northern Ireland regularly about that," he added.

Mr Lewis told BBC News NI the UK is "at a stage where we may be starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel".

There are vaccine tests and trials starting on Thursday.

"That’s good news, but it is still very early days and at the moment we must make sure that we don’t waste all that phenomenal effort that everybody has put in by staying at home," he said.

"We have got to continue to follow the guidelines and stick to staying at home whenever we can."

Image source, PAcemaker
Image caption,
Sinn Féin Junior Minister Declan Kearney made the comments in An Phoblacht

Asked about suggestions that Northern Ireland could emerge from lockdown ahead of other parts of the UK, Mr Lewis said, "there is an ability for devolved authorities like the Northern Ireland executive to take some variation in what they do".

"We saw that going into lockdown as well. But I think at the moment we should be cautious about prejudging exactly what will happen," he said.

The secretary of state acknowledged that a suggestion he had appeared to make to the Impartial Reporter that different counties within Northern Ireland could take different paths was "probably not" practical.

Mr Lewis explained that by saying he was not ruling anything out, he had just been trying to make the point that he did not want to prejudge any medical advice.

Questioned about why it is taking so long to finalise a package of financial support for Northern Ireland's ferry operators, airports and haulage firms, Mr Lewis told the BBC the government will make sure that the connectivity Northern Ireland enjoys remains in place.