Who is Hilary Benn? The veteran Labour MP named as Northern Ireland's new secretary of state

Labour MP Hilary Benn arrives at 10 Downing Street, London, following the landslide General Election victory for the Labour Party.
-Credit: (Image: Lucy North/PA Wire)

A veteran Labour MP has been named as Northern Ireland's new secretary of state.

Hilary Benn has been appointed to the role within Sir Keir Starmer's cabinet, which has overall responsibility for the Northern Ireland Office and will see him working alongside other Northern Ireland Office ministers.

Mr Benn, who is from the Hammersmith area of London, has been the shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland since September 2023. He is the fifth secretary of state for Northern Ireland since the 2019 Westminster election.

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He has represented the constituency of Leeds Central in the House of Commons since 1999, and served in the cabinet previously from 2003 to 2010 under Labour prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

More recently, he served as shadow foreign secretary and chairman of the Brexit select committee. Mr Benn is the son of former cabinet minister and left-wing campaigner Tony Benn, who also served in Labour cabinets in the 1960s and 1970s.

However, Mr Benn has not inherited all of his father’s beliefs. During the 1999 contest for the Leeds Central seat that he would go on to represent for decades, Mr Benn described himself as a “Benn, but not a Bennite”.

He supported the Iraq war while serving in Sir Tony Blair’s government and later, as shadow foreign secretary, defied then-leader Jeremy Corbyn to back military action against the so-called Islamic State in Syria.

During his time as shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, Mr Benn was vocal on issues such as the Legacy Act, the redevelopment of Casement Park, and the restoration of power-sharing government at Stormont.

He has also previously been asked about his opinion on a referendum on Irish unity, with the Northern Ireland secretary being the only person with the power to call a border poll. Mr Benn has previously defended his party leader Keir Starmer's view that a vote is currently "not even on the horizon."

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