James Brokenshire ‘honoured’ to become Northern Secretary

Villiers’s replacement a close ally of Theresa May having worked with her in home office

James Brokenshire, who campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU, replaces Theresa Villiers as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

James Brokenshire, who campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU, replaces Theresa Villiers as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

 

Remain MP James Brokenshire has been appointed as the new secretary of state for Northern Ireland.

He replaces Theresa Villiers, who had been one of the leading proponents of the UK leaving the EU.

Mr Brokenshire (48), the MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup in the Greater London area, has been an MP since 2005 and is a close ally of new British prime minister Theresa May. He served as a minister in the British home office for six years when she was the home secretary.

Mr Brokenshire’s main responsibilities were security and immigration. He said he was “delighted and honoured” to be appointed to Northern Ireland.

Ms Villiers, who was Northern secretary since 2012, resigned from cabinet yesterday. She declined the offer of a non-cabinet role from Ms May.

While Ms Villiers had expressed a wish to continue, it is speculated that Ms May decided to appoint Mr Brokenshire because his views on Europe might be viewed as more amenable in any Brexit negotiations with the Irish Government. The fact that a majority of people in the North (56 per cent) voted to Remain may have been a factor.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan “warmly” congratulated Mr Brokenshire and wished Ms Villiers “success in her future political career”.

Foundation stone

Mr Flanagan said the Belfast Agreement was the “foundation stone” for relations on the island of Ireland and that the British and Irish governments had “key responsibilities” for upholding its principles.

Mr Brokenshire, in his first statement as Northern Secretary reflected Ms May’s commitment to the union.

“I know from my previous visits to Northern Ireland that it is a very special and valued part of our United Kingdom and which has so much potential as a place to invest and do business.”

He said he was “looking forward to working closely . . . with the Executive, the Irish Government and the whole community in Northern Ireland to build a brighter, more secure future for everyone”.

“A key priority for me is to continue with the full implementation of the Stormont House and Fresh Start agreements, to help tackle paramilitarism, put the Executive’s finances on a secure footing and address the legacy of the past. I also want to maintain the government’s full support for the Belfast Agreement,” he said.

On Brexit Mr Brokenshire said it was “vital that Northern Ireland’s interests are fully protected and advanced including in relation to the Border”.

Successes

Ms Villiers said she was sad to leave her post, where one of the successes of her period was agreeing last November’s Fresh Start Agreement.

She believed she left Northern Ireland in a “more stable position than it has been for many years, not least because I was able to help tackle the crisis which a year ago left us on the brink of a collapse of devolution and a return to direct rule”.

First Minister Arlene Foster wished Ms Villiers “well for the future”. The former Sinn Féin minister for education John O’Dowd also personally wished her well but added that “politically she will not be missed”.