Tribute by friend and former PM, Theresa May

Created by Simon one year ago

Published in the Times - 11 Oct 2021

James Brokenshire was a shining example of what every MP and minister should be, thoughtful, diligent and completely committed to public service.

Through the nine years we worked together in government he never failed to step up to the plate when asked, always willing to put his duty to the government and the public before his personal interests. He was respected across the House of Commons and by all he dealt with, politician and civil servant alike.

But he was far more than that. He was a devoted husband and loving family man. When he had to stand down from the cabinet following his initial diagnosis with lung cancer the main concern he raised with me was the impact on his wife Cathy and their children.

And at various stages during his ministerial career he was not only doing his two jobs as MP and minister, but was also caring for his parents as they went through periods of ill health.

He was diligent as a constituency MP, recognising that whatever heights you reach in government, the bedrock is your constituency and often when I wanted to speak to him on a Friday, unlike many ministers, that is where he would be. But most people will remember him for his time as a minister.

As a new home secretary, I had never served in the home affairs shadow team, but James had and having his experience and wisdom alongside me was invaluable. Being a Home Office minister is never easy and James held office in two of the more demanding areas of public policy; security and immigration – at one stage covering both at the same time.

To all of his roles he brought the same characteristics. He worked hard, got to grips with the details, thought carefully about the issue and exercised finely honed judgment.
He did this not to further his own career but because he cared. He cared about the issues he was dealing with and wanted to get the best possible answers. He cared about the impact decisions he took would have on people for whom he always wanted to deliver.

These characteristics continued to stand him in good stead in the cabinet, particularly when he accepted the role of secretary of state for Northern Ireland, as did his understanding that ministers can’t always be popular and sometimes have to take really tough decisions that gain them no friends.

His time as a lawyer doing corporate deals stood him in good stead when negotiating in Northern Ireland, where he earned respect from across the political and sectarian divide. Unlike some he understood the importance of meeting people in all communities to understand their concerns.

The term “safe pair of hands” is often used in politics but there is no-one who deserved that accolade more than James. He was someone on whom you could always rely and that included the occasions when he had to cut short his family holiday to return to the UK to deal with yet another crisis that had arisen.

It was James that I turned to when we needed to negotiate an agreement with Jordan in order to be able to deport Abu Qatada and James who was later in the hot seat when Sinn Fein collapsed the Northern Ireland Executive.
This may all make him appear to be solely a work driven individual, but that was the opposite of the truth. Yes, he took his work seriously, but he was also a devoted family man with a great sense of humour. Evenings spent with James and Cathy were evenings full of fun and laughter. He took jokes at his own expense in good heart, and he was never fazed.

His hair style was often remarked on – the bottle brush hair. I remember one occasion when I had a couple of friends to dinner in the House of Commons. I was late and my husband took them for a drink in the Pugin Room. It happened that James was there with his own guests, but he didn’t bat an eyelid when one of my guests who he had never met before went over to him and insisted on running her hand through his hair!

Above all else James Brokenshire was a thoroughly decent individual, a lovely man and a loyal friend. Someone you would always want by your side. Politics and parliament would be the better if there were more people of his calibre involved and politics and parliament are the weaker for his loss.