THERESA May retains confidence in Karen Bradley despite her admission that she initially did not understand Northern Ireland politics when she took on the Cabinet brief, No 10 has said.

The Northern Ireland Secretary revealed she was unaware that the country’s nationalists did not vote for unionist parties or vice-versa during elections. Bradley, who was appointed earlier this year, also said she did not fathom some of the deep-rooted issues that define Northern Irish politics.

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Downing Street refused to be drawn on the criteria used by the Prime Minister when appointing ministers. A No 10 spokeswoman said: “The Northern Ireland Secretary is working incredibly hard to restore devolved government to Northern Ireland.”

Asked if the PM remained confident that Bradley was able to do the job, the spokeswoman replied: “Yes, she is working very closely with the parties there.”

Asked how voters in Northern Ireland could have confidence in Bradley, the spokeswoman replied: “I would point to all of the work that she is doing to restore devolved government to Northern Ireland.”

Bradley was appointed in January after her predecessor James Brokenshire stepped aside for medical reasons.

She said: “I didn’t understand things like when elections are fought for example in Northern Ireland – people who are nationalists don’t vote for unionist parties and vice-versa.

“So, the parties fight for election within their own community.

“Actually, the unionist parties fight the elections against each other in unionist communities and nationalists in nationalist communities,” she added.