Northern Ireland news

James Brokenshire resigns as Secretary of State as he prepares to undergo lung surgery

 James Brokenshire has resigned as secretary of state. Picture Mal McCann

SECRETARY of State James Brokenshire has resigned from his post citing "ill-health".

The news comes as Theresa May is set to announce a reshuffle of the cabinet in the British government. 

In a letter to British Prime Minister Theresa May, Mr Brokenshire said that he has a "small lesion" in his right lung and was set to undergo surgery at the earliest opportunity.

"While the operation is expected to address the issue and I will get back to work relativley quickly, recovering from surgery and regaining my strength will take several weeks," he wrote. 

"I recognise that this comes at an important moment for politics in Northern Ireland...There is an urgent need to restart talks netween the parties...I recognise however that as a result of my forthcoming surgeryI 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."

Mr Brokenshire, who has been in the post since July 2016, has been expected to launch a new bid to break the impasse that has left the north without a government for nearly a year.

While his resignation comes as a surprise, John Manley Irish News political reporter says he will be remembered for his blandness during a period of political instability. 

"When the previously unheard of James Brokenshire was appointed Northern Ireland secretary of state, journalists at his local paper in south London were asked about their MP. It seemed rather odd at the time but they didn't have a great deal to say. "Business-friendly" was one description, however, beyond that they found it difficult to characterise the former immigration minister.

"With 12 months hindsight, it's easier to understand why the responses were so brief and lacked any insight. It's hard not to talk about James Brokenshire without sounding, at best, critical.

"In his predecessor Theresa Villiers we thought we'd encountered by far the north's most detached and trite secretary of state, however, the MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup is in a league of his own.

"The few media interviews he gives are exercises in verbosity and subterfuge – so many words but so little actually said. Some may regard such presentation as a great political skill but when delivered by James Brokenshire, its effect is to numb listeners to the point where they disengage through a combination of mental fatigue and bafflement.

"But just because he has the personality of a motorway services car park doesn't automatically make him a bad secretary of state – it's his record in office that does that. Even a writer for the Tory-friendly magazine The Spectator agrees, labelling his performance in the north as "hapless" and describing the 50-year-old as "out of his depth".

"It's perhaps unfair to lay the entire blame for an inconclusive, lacklustre talks process at the secretary of state's door but he certainly can't escape unscathed."

DUP leader Arlene Foster said: "This is clearly a difficult time for not only James but for Cathy, his wife and his children. I send my best wishes to him and the entire Brokenshire family. I trust James will have the surgery he needs and will make a full recovery. 

"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."

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood MLA wished Mr Brokenshire well.

“I want to send my sincere best wishes to James Brokenshire as he steps down from his position as Secretary of State to focus on his own health," he said. 

"I’ve always had a very good working relationship with him.

 “Our thoughts are with him and his family as he takes time to concentrate on his health."

UUP leader Robin Swann MLA said: “It is with sincere regret that I have learned of James Brokenshire’s resignation.  I respected his honesty and how he played with a straight bat.  I wish him well for the future both with his health and in his political career. 

“I hope that we will see a new Secretary of State appointed soon.  Given the state of politics in Northern Ireland it is important that the future Minister is able to hit the ground running. 

"It is shameful that we still do not have an Executive and Assembly in place and I hope that the incoming Secretary of State will reconvene talks as a matter of urgency”

Alliance leader Naomi Long said: “We often disagreed, sometimes robustly, but the role of Secretary of State is mostly a thankless task and I appreciate, particularly in the current political circumstances, it is not an easy role to fulfil. On behalf of my colleagues and I, I wish James well for the future and I hope and trust he will soon return to full health.

“Obviously, this resignation, coming at a time when parties expected to be moving into a more intensive phase of negotiations about restoration, creates a break in continuity in the Northern Ireland Office.

“However, whilst any new Secretary of State will need some time to develop relationships and an understanding of the current state of play, it is important planned talks proceed as quickly as possible."

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