Steve Baker has revealed that he suffered a “major mental health crisis” including anxiety and depression due to the stress of Brexit.
The Northern Ireland office minister and former Brexit rebel, who is one of the most ardent backers of Rishi Sunak’s post-Brexit rules, said in an interview with BBC’s Newsnight on Monday that he was emotional.
The “decisive breakthrough” announced by Mr Sunak on Monday on post-Brexit rules will remove trade barriers for Northern Ireland in a post-Brexit trading arrangement.
“Seven years of this cost me my mental health,” he said.
“The beard, the jewellery, is about me and my recovery. In November 2021, I had a major mental health crisis, anxiety and depression, I couldn’t go on.
“People couldn’t tell – I made a big keynote speech in the afternoon.
“But make no mistake, holding these tigers by the tail, Brexit, covid recovery group, net zero scrutiny group, the tax stuff we did with Conservative way forward, took its toll, we’re all only human.
“And the way I’ve led rebellions, no one should have to do. And this is an important moment for me personally. Because I can authentically say ‘he’s done it.’”
The post-Brexit deal which came after months of negotiation and speculation was confirmed during a joint press conference with Mr Sunak and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.
Named as the “Windsor Framework”, the new deal removes barriers on trade across the Irish Sea and gives a “veto” to Northern Ireland on EU law – a set of concessions from Brussels that went further than some expected.
Mr Sunak has called it a “very powerful mechanism” for Stormont to use when it has concerns over EU law, as he heralded the overall deal as a “decisive breakthrough”.
“Today’s agreement delivers smooth-flowing trade within the whole United Kingdom, protects Northern Ireland’s place in our union and safeguards sovereignty for the people of Northern Ireland,” the prime minister said.
In the coming days, Mr Sunak is likely to travel to Northern Ireland. The deal will also be closely studied by Tory backbenchers.
The prime minister is expected to speak to backbench MPs on Tuesday.
Mr Baker said the deal provides an “incredible opportunity” and he will be happy to close this chapter of his life.
“If only everybody will read the text, and think seriously about what an amazing achievement this is, what an incredible opportunity it provides, for the people of Northern Ireland and actually for the whole of Europe to move beyond this awful populism we have suffered.
“Just be sensible and grown up, do the right thing by 1.9 million people, and the ripple effects for everybody else. You bet I’m emotional, because this bookends a seven-year chapter of my life which I’ll be glad to close,” he said.