Brokenshire’s Home Office experience will be much needed in NI

Morning View
Morning View

Northern Ireland has a new Secretary of State, after four years with no change in the incumbent.

James Brokenshire replaces Theresa Villiers, who had been in place since September 2012.

Both are the same age – a relatively youthful 48.

And the pair almost swapped jobs, when Theresa May offered them each other’s job. Mr Brokenshire had been security minister at the Home Office under Mrs May who was Home Secretary. But Ms Villiers has turned down the offer and left the government altogether, rather than accept a post outside the cabinet that would have in effect been a demotion.

This sequence shows further steel on the part of Mrs May. She is clearly going to put her own stamp on her government and she has not been afraid to wield the axe.

Mr Brokenshire has significant ministerial experience, having held one of the toughest non cabinet jobs. The Home Office is a notoriously challenging department, and he had been in charge of two of the thorniest issues – security and immigration – which are difficult at any time but have been particularly so in recent years due to the waves of migration towards Europe and the rise of fanatical Islamic terrorism.

Mr Brokenshire will need this experience because he arrives at Stormont to multiple challenges, the most significant of which is the impact of Brexit on the border. The style of border that we will face, hard or soft, is far from clear.

As a supporter of Remain, he might be able to assuage some discontent among nationalists over the Brexit outcome.

He also has to navigate legacy issues. Nationalists are pushing for funding for legacy inquests but this must not happen in isolation. The state has been demonised relentlessly and we must not have another five years of such findings while IRA mass murder goes largely unsolved.

Theresa May was a friendly, intelligent minister who quietly stood up to the more unreasonable demands of nationalism. Mr Brokenshire seems to be a thoughtful man and he will report to an avowedly unionist PM. It is to be hoped that he too can navigate a calm but firm course from Stormont Castle.