Thursday 18 January 2018

James Brokenshire resigns as UK's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland due to ill health

The 50-year old requires an an operation to remove a small lesion in his right lung

Former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire
Former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

James Brokenshire quit as the UK's Northern Ireland Secretary for medical reasons as he acknowledged that forthcoming surgery would mean he could not give the "effort, energy and complete focus" needed for the role.

In his letter to UK Prime Minister Theresa May, Mr Brokenshire said an operation to remove a small lesion in his right lung meant he had to stand down.

Efforts to restore the power-sharing administration in Northern Ireland and the impact of Brexit on the island of Ireland mean that the role is demanding and sensitive and Mr Brokenshire said he had hoped to lead the "essential work with renewed intent" before his diagnosis.

In his letter to Mrs May he said: "I recognise that this comes at an important moment for politics in Northern Ireland."

There was an "urgent need" to restart stalled talks on the restoration of devolved government, he said.

"We are now well into overtime to re-establish an executive if further intervention in the day to day affairs of Northern Ireland is to be avoided."

Mr Brokenshire, (50), said he had been informed about the lesion "in the last few days" after a series of tests in recent weeks.

Britain's Prime Minister appeared to hold out the prospect of a return to government for Mr Brokenshire, who had previously served under her in the Home Office with responsibility for security and immigration.

Mrs May said Mr Brokenshire had demonstrated that the role in the Northern Ireland Office was "vital work which will demand long hours, hard effort and complete focus" and it was "absolutely right that you should put your health first".

She told him he had performed with "great diligence, determination and good humour" in his government roles and "I know that you will approach your forthcoming operation in the same way".

She added: "I very much look forward to working alongside you again when you are back to full health."

Mrs May sent her best wishes to Old Bexley and Sidcup MP Mr Brokenshire, his wife Cathy and their three children.

"While it is typical of you that your first thought was not for yourself, but for your duties as a Cabinet Minister and public servant, it is absolutely right that you should put your health first, for your sake and that of your family," she said.

Simon Coveney released a statement saying that in the six months since his appointment for Minister for Foreign Affairs and trade he has worked closely with Mr Brokenshire and "come to value and appreciate his professionalism and friendship".

He paid tribute to Mr Brokenshire's efforts in trying to restore the power-sharing process to Northern Ireland, specifically highlighting the "understated" behind-the-scenes work.

"As Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James worked with unfailing dedication and determination to secure political progress, consistent with the objectives and commitments of the Good Friday Agreement. I want to acknowledge today the patience and leadership that James has brought to his role as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland during a very crucial time for the peace process.

"His unwavering commitment - in public and in private - over the last year to securing the effective operation of the devolved power-sharing institutions in Belfast has been hugely important. While it is not always obvious to the public gaze, very important progress has been made on significant issues over the last year and I believe that a positive outcome can still be achieved. If it is, it will be a testament to the quiet, understated but hugely valuable work of James Brokenshire."

Mr Coveney extended his well-wishes to the Brokenshire family and said he hopes he has the opportunity to work with Mr Brokenshire again.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said: "Since becoming Secretary of State in 2016, Mr Brokenshire had immersed himself fully in the role by dedicating long hours to trying to make progress.

"James leaves the role with a very intimate knowledge of Northern Ireland and I look forward to working with him again in the future."

Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke said he was sorry to see Mr Brokenshire leave the Government.

Clearly surprised by the announcement, Mr Gauke told BBC Radio Five Live's Emma Barnett Show: "James is one of the best people in politics, I think everyone who knows him from whatever their political views, (think he) is someone of great integrity and hard work.

"So if that's true I'm really sorry to hear that."

The full text of the letter of resignation sent by Mr Brokenshire, and the response from Mrs May, has been published.

Dear Theresa,

As you know, over recent weeks I have been undergoing a number of medical tests on my lungs. In the last few days I have been told that I have a small lesion in my right lung which needs to be removed. Clearly, my long term health and my family are my priorities and I intend to proceed with surgery at the earliest opportunity. While the operation is expected to address the issue and I will get back to work relatively quickly, recovering from surgery and regaining my strength will take several weeks.

I recognise that this comes at an important moment for politics in Northern Ireland. I feel intently the impact on public services of the continuing absence of devolved government. There is an urgent need to re-start talks between the parties. We are now well into overtime to re-establish an Executive if further intervention into the day to day affairs of Northern Ireland is to be avoided.

Securing the positive outcome for Northern Ireland and the Island of Ireland following the UK's departure from the EU will continue to be at the forefront as we enter the next stage of the negotiations. Other pressing issues also need to be addressed including the launch of the public consultation on implementing the Stormont House legacy bodies to help respond to the needs of victims and survivors of the Troubles.

I had expected to continue to lead this essential work with renewed intent in the immediate weeks ahead. I recognise, however, that as a result of my forthcoming surgery I will not be able to give the effort, energy and complete focus needed at this important time if we are to secure the positive outcomes both you and I are committed to achieving. In the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland and the Government as a whole, with much regret, I believe that the right thing at this time is for me to stand down from my current responsibilities.

It has been a huge privilege to serve in your Government and to serve the people of Northern Ireland as Secretary of State. I have very much enjoyed the role and been moved by the spirit, determination and kindness of so many people. Despite the challenges and the huge frustrations felt as a result of the lack of devolved government, Northern Ireland has so much potential and we can be positive as to what can be achieved in the years ahead. The parties in Northern Ireland should grab hold of this and get on with delivering this shared future benefiting the whole community.

Rather than looking for reasons not to restore the Executive the parties should focus on why this matters now more than ever. My earnest wish is that we see devolved government restored as quickly as possible. The parties have got over much bigger issues in the past and at this important time they have a duty to do so now.

Thank you for your own personal kindness and thoughtfulness - it has meant a great deal. My focus will now be on getting on with surgery, getting on with my recovery and getting back to frontline political duties and my responsibilities as MP for Old Bexley & Sidcup at the earliest opportunity. With Cathy and my children, I am blessed in having a loving and supportive family around me who give me strength and will help me through to the speediest recovery.

Yours ever

Dear James,

I was sorry to hear about your medical situation, which will require you to undergo surgery and a period of recuperation.

While it is typical of you that your first thought was not for yourself, but for your duties as a Cabinet Minister and public servant, it is absolutely right that you should put your health first, for your sake and that of your family.

As you say, this is an important moment for politics in Northern Ireland. We must continue to secure the positive outcome for Northern Ireland to which we have already made such progress in our Brexit negotiations, and all parties must redouble their efforts to re-establish devolved government through a Northern Ireland Executive. As you have shown in recent months, this is vital work which will demand long hours, hard effort, and complete focus.

I know how heavily you will have weighed your duty alongside your own medical needs - and what a good job you would have done were it not for them. It has been a pleasure to work alongside you, first at the Home Office and then in my Cabinet. You have undertaken some of the most important and demanding jobs in Government - Security Minister, Immigration Minister, and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland - with great diligence, determination, and good humour. I know that you will approach your forthcoming operation in the same way, and I very much look forward to working alongside you again when you are back to full health.

My best wishes go to you, Cathy and the children. I hope you have a speedy recovery.

Best Wishes

 

Press Association

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