Former Northern secretary James Brokenshire dies aged 53

Laders pay tribute to ‘nicest, kindest and most unassuming’ of politicians

Former secretary of state for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire, who resigned last summer because of his illness. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Former secretary of state for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire, who resigned last summer because of his illness. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times


Political leaders across Britain and Ireland have paid tribute to former Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire, who has died aged 53.

Mr Brokenshire stepped down from the position in 2018 when he was diagnosed with lung cancer and returned to the government as a housing minister after treatment. But he resigned as security minister last July when the cancer returned and he died on Friday after his condition deteriorated rapidly last weekend.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin said he was deeply saddened to hear of Mr Brokenshire’s death. “He was a dedicated politician and public servant, whose sincerity and commitment always shone through, specifically in the context of his work in Northern Ireland. He brought integrity, energy and commitment as Secretary of State, and was a constructive partner for the Irish Government throughout,” he said.

Mr Brokenshire was appointed Northern Ireland secretary by Theresa May in July 2016 after she succeeded David Cameron following the Brexit referendum. Six months later, the Stormont institutions collapsed and his tenure was marked by a number of controversies, including a high profile dispute with Northern Ireland’s most senior judge over funding criminal investigations into former soldiers.

Boris Johnson described Mr Brokenshire as the “nicest, kindest and most unassuming” of politicians.

“If the Government needed something done well and speedily - and sensibly explained - James was the man to do it,” he said.

“His fight against cancer was heroic, and it is a measure of his resolve that he came back from a first bout with the disease to serve in government again. He will be missed by all who knew him.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer also expressed sadness at the news of Mr Brokenshire’s death.

“James Brokenshire was a thoroughly decent man, dedicated and effective in all briefs he held. He fought his illness with dignity and bravery,” he said.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson and Sinn Féin’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill led tributes from political leaders in Northern Ireland.

“This is desperately sad news. James was one of the genuinely nicest people I have worked with in politics. He often spoke warmly of his time in Northern Ireland as Secretary of State,” Mr Donaldson said.

Ms O’Neill said her thoughts and prayers were with Mr Brokenshire’s family.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar also extended condolences to Mr Brokenshire’s colleagues, family and friends.

“He is someone that I worked with for a period of time,” Mr Varadkar said. “He really was a fine man and really sorry to hear about this untimely death.”

In a statement, Mr Brokenshire’s family said he “ died peacefully at Darent Valley Hospital yesterday evening with family members by his bedside”.

As well as being “a brilliant government minister” and “dedicated constituency MP”, the family said “most importantly, he was a loving father to his three children, a devoted husband to Cathy and a faithful friend to so many. - Additional reporting PA