Tribute by Robert Buckland MP

Created by Simon one year ago
Written for

Whilst James would laugh at himself, and there were plenty of times when we would have a very good laugh indeed, he cared deeply about getting things right - the very essence of public service and the true mark of the man.

I have always had a bit of a problem with the word “nice”.  Let’s face it, it isn’t a very strong adjective.  It is another way of describing someone as pleasant.  To my mind it is associated with words like “inoffensive” or even “bland”.  With respect to those who have deployed that word to describe James Brokenshire, whose death was announced last week, he was much, much more than merely a nice person.

When James asked me in 2011 to help shoulder some of his work as a Home Office minister by acting as his unofficial PPS, it was the start of an association that grew in strength and closeness, as I realised the quality of the man and his work. The Home Office always has a heavy legislative programme, so as I sat behind him in often lengthy bill committees and compared his approach to that of others who frankly weren’t as good, I was in a very good place to assess his talents.  Working in government together, James and I were on the same wavelength throughout the torrid years of Brexit. We both firmly believed in the importance of constituency work, and he came to Swindon regularly to support me in both general and local elections.

The James I knew was keen and sharp. His fertile, lawyer’s mind meant that no problem, however big, was incapable of analysis, consideration and solution. He was never daunted by circumstances.  Whilst he was at the Home Office, in his various incarnations, he covered virtually every part of the departmental brief.  At one point, he was handling both security and immigration, with one of the biggest workloads in Whitehall. The fact that no-one doubted his capacity was a testament to his manifest ability. When Theresa May elevated him to cabinet as Northern Ireland secretary, it was with absolute confidence that James would do the painstaking work with all communities that is essential, which that is precisely what he did.  As housing secretary, the number of rough sleepers fell whilst the number of houses being built climbed upwards. In 2020, James’ return to the Home Office as security minister was met with a resounding cheer from their press team.

As well as his work ethic, James’ wider values shaped his life both in and out of politics.  Whilst he would laugh at himself, and there were plenty of times when we would have a very good laugh indeed, what he always did was take his responsibilities very seriously. James cared deeply about getting things right, which is the very essence of public service and the true mark of the man.

James’ knowledge and experience of the Commons was immense. His performances in committee on bill after bill epitomised his attention to detail, his close and productive work with civil servants and the way he engendered respect from the opposition, if not always agreement! He loved the Commons and had a way of carrying the House with him, even on the thorniest of issues.

The adjectives that I believe sum up James Brokenshire are these: driven, quick, persuasive, funny, kind, decent. For the best testament to James, I will leave it to an anonymous donor who wrote the following on the donation page that has been set up in James’ memory: “I have not worked with anyone finer. A man of true integrity, always entirely across his brief, fiercely intelligent and incredibly kind. He was respectful to his officials, as well as rigorous in his questioning of and the testing of policy and legal positions presented to him. He was fantastic at distilling complex information into articulate and clear responses in Parliament. I had nothing but respect and admiration for how he did his job and his dedication to public service.” Amen to that.  We are missing you already, my friend.