Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire resigns due to ill health - read resignation letter in full

By Claire Williamson

Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire has resigned and will be leaving the government due to ill health.

The Northern Ireland Office confirmed on Monday he had left office.

It comes as Prime Minister Theresa May is to give her Government a New Year revamp in the most extensive reshuffle of her top team since she appointed her first Cabinet on entering Downing Street in 2016.

Mr Brokenshire has resigned from the Cabinet as the 50-year-old outgoing Northern Ireland Secretary requires surgery for a lung condition.

The Old Bexley and Sidcup MP is a close ally of Mrs May, having served under her for five years at the Home Office, and he was not among ministers who were predicted to go in the Prime Minister's first major reshuffle since she took office.

Mr Brokenshire took the role in 2016 replacing Theresa Villiers.

In his resignation letter to the Prime Minister Mr Brokenshire addressed his health and said he has a "small lesion in my right lung which needs to be removed".

He said it had been a "huge privilege" to serve in Mrs May's government and "to serve the people of Northern Ireland as Secretary of State".

He said: "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 matter 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."

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 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.

Northern Ireland's political parties have been reacting to the news.

DUP Leader Arlene Foster MLA 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.”

DUP deputy Leader Nigel Dodds said: "Sorry to hear Secretary of State is standing down. Best wishes to James and his family for the time ahead."

UUP Leader Robin Swann said: "It is with sincere regret that I have learned of James Brokenshire’s resignation.  I respected his honesty and how be 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 SoS appointed soon.  Given the state of politics in Northern Ireland it is important that the future Minister is able to hit the ground running and I hope that the incoming SoS will reconvene talks as a matter of urgency."

Shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland Owen Smith said: "Very sorry to hear that @JBrokenshire is unwell and has left the Cabinet. I, and I’m sure all in Northern Ireland, thank James for his diligent service and wish him a speedy recovery."

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood wishes Mr Brokenshire well and said he always had a "good working relationship with him".

He said: "In the course of negotiations, the SDLP has often disagreed with the position of his government but I have always found Mr Brokenshire to be personable, reasonable and, so far as possible, helpful.

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

“It’s clear now that any new talks process aimed at restoring power sharing must be chaired by an independent arbiter. We cannot undergo the same discussions with a new Secretary of State only to arrive at the same barriers.

“The new office holder should move quickly to appoint an independent chairperson and bring the parties together to resolve the challenges that remain. Our hospitals, schools and other public services are on the brink. It is critical that we get to work to seek a resolution now.”

Green Party Leader Steven Agnew said he wishes Mr Brokenshire all the best in his recovery.

The North Down MLA said: “Mr Brokenshire took on the mantle of Secretary of State during a particularly difficult time in Northern Ireland politics and faced an uphill task in trying to forge a consensus between negotiating parties that seemed unable to move any closer to an agreement.

“Our thoughts are with him in his illness and we wish him all the best in his recovery.”

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. 

“We have been without government for too long already and must ensure this impasse is speedily resolved. Alliance stands ready to work with whomever is appointed as his successor to ensure fresh momentum and direction is injected into the search for an accommodation.”

More to follow

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