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Relative unknown regarded as a safe pair of hands could prove to be inspired choice

By Noel McAdam

Published 15/07/2016

James Brokenshire waves to the media outside 10 Downing Street
James Brokenshire waves to the media outside 10 Downing Street

The border was perhaps the biggest issue here before the EU referendum, so with experience in immigration, counter-terrorism, security and crime prevention, the new Secretary of State may prove an inspired choice.

Concerns about the status of the Irish border after Brexit, and whether free movement of people and goods will be impacted, have dominated political debate since the UK's historic vote to leave the EU.

Virtually unknown in Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire, a married father-of-three, arrives at the Northern Ireland Office after six years at the Home Office, where he held a number of posts, including Immigration Minister.

As a Remain campaigner, the Old Bexley and Sidcup MP shares the view of the majority of Northern Ireland's voters on the EU. The fallout created by the referendum will top the agenda for the 48-year-old former Home Office Minister as he takes the reins at the Northern Ireland Office.

Connections between Northern Ireland and Mr Brokenshire appear to be few and far between.

He was a partner in a major international law firm for 13 years, specialising in company law, corporate finance and takeovers, before entering Parliament as MP for Bexley.

For some time he has been regarded as a close confidant of new Prime Minister Theresa May, but his job at the Northern Ireland Office is a sideways move rather than promotion.

It is also viewed, however, as an indication of the priority Mrs May intends to give the province, giving it to someone she regards as a safe pair of hands.

He is not known for his eloquence, and his Twitter feed reveals little in the way of personality - adoring posts about Mrs May and much that parrots the party political line.

One big issue in his in-tray will be attempting to find a resolution to the thorny political impasse that has prevented the establishment of new mechanisms for dealing with the toxic legacy of the Troubles.

Born in 1968 in Southend-on-Sea, his ministerial career began as Shadow Minister for Crime Reduction in 2006, after which he was appointed as the Minister for Crime Prevention at the Home Office under Mrs May.

After that, for four years he served as Security Minister at the Home Office with responsibility for domestic national security and counter-terrorism, including the national police counter-terrorism network.

He was a member of former PM David Cameron's taskforce on extremism, and helped oversee the National Crime Agency, the introduction of which to Northern Ireland created a split between unionists and nationalists in the Assembly.

He is also a member of the Privy Council, the body that advises the Queen. First Minister Arlene Foster was also appointed to the Privy Council earlier this week.

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