Boris Johnson has paid tribute to James Brokenshire as the “nicest, kindest and most unassuming of politicians” after the death of the former government minister at the age of 53.
Mr Brokenshire, who served as Northern Ireland secretary and security minister, had been suffering from lung cancer and died on Thursday evening, a statement from his family said.
The Prime Minister said he was “desperately sad” to hear the news, and the flags in New Palace Yard in the Palace of Westminster were lowered to half-mast in tribute.
Mr Johnson said on Twitter: “He served with particular distinction in the Home Office and as security minister. If the Government needed something done well and speedily – and sensibly explained – James was the man to do it.
“I worked with him for many years in London and I know how much he cared for the interests of his Bexley constituents.
“His fight against cancer was heroic, and it is a measure of his resolve that he came back from a first bout with the disease to serve in government again. He will be missed by all who knew him. Our thoughts are with Cathy and his family.”
Mr Brokenshire, the Conservative MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup, first announced he had been diagnosed with lung cancer in 2018 and he underwent surgery to remove the upper lobe of his right lung.
At the time, non-smoker Mr Brokenshire said he had been prompted to see his GP after coughing up a small amount of blood.
He became vocal over calls for a national screening programme for lung cancer, and in April 2018 used a debate in Parliament to call for a national programme to improve poor survival rates.
He said much stigma surrounds lung cancer, with many people incorrectly believing it is only caused by smoking.
He also backed efforts by Baroness Jowell, who died in May 2018 after suffering from a glioblastoma multiforme brain tumour, for more experimental treatments to be available on the NHS.
In January, he suffered a recurrence of a tumour in his lung and later said the “somewhat troublesome” lung had now been removed by surgeons at Guy’s Hospital in south London.
But in August, he confirmed his lung cancer had “progressed” and he was starting a new line of treatment.
Mr Brokenshire’s family said he had been in hospital since Sunday and his condition had rapidly deteriorated.
In a statement, they said: “James was not only a brilliant government minister as both security and immigration minister at the Home Office and secretary of state at the Northern Ireland Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, but a dedicated constituency MP, first for Hornchurch from 2005 to 2010, and then for Old Bexley and Sidcup for the past 11 years.
“But, most importantly, he was a loving father to his three children, a devoted husband to Cathy and a faithful friend to so many.
“We would like to thank all the NHS staff, particularly those at Guy’s & St Thomas’ in London, who cared for James with such warmth, diligence and professionalism over the past three-and-a-half years.”
His family later announced they had set up a memorial page so people could share their memories and photographs of the politician – and also donate money towards the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation.
Mr Brokenshire resigned as security minister in July after telling Mr Johnson that his recovery from surgery was taking “longer than expected”.
When his cancer progressed, he said he was “keeping upbeat” over his condition but “needed space to focus on treatment”.
Former prime minister David Cameron said Mr Brokenshire had been a “hard-working and dedicated MP but, more than that, he was a thoroughly decent and lovely man, and devoted to his family”.
Mr Cameron’s successor as PM, Theresa May, called Mr Brokenshire “an outstanding public servant, a talented minister and a loyal friend”.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak wrote on Twitter: “James Brokenshire was a man of public service and the highest integrity. He was a valued friend and colleague and will be deeply missed.”
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss described Mr Brokenshire as “honest, decent and brave”.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said he “epitomised the value of public service and served his constituents, our party, and our country with great dignity”.
Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said: “I got to know James from 2006 onwards and worked with him in (government). A smart and brilliant politician, and just a terrific guy. He will be so sorely missed.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer tweeted: “James Brokenshire was a thoroughly decent man, dedicated and effective in all briefs he held.
“He fought his illness with dignity and bravery. I’m incredibly sad to learn of his death and send my condolences to his wife and children.”
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner tweeted: “Sending my deepest condolences to the family, friends and loved ones of James Brokenshire.
“He has been taken far too young, a real tragedy. James was unfailingly professional and kind and it was clear that he cared deeply about his work and public service. Rest in peace James.”
On behalf of the Civil Service, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case said of Mr Brokenshire: “He was a man of deep kindness and integrity, and as a minister he inspired respect and loyalty from the civil servants who worked for him in the Home Office, Northern Ireland Office and the then Ministry for Housing and Local Government.
“I had the personal privilege of working with him closely over a number of years and admired greatly his unwavering commitment to public service and compassion.”
Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said: “I will always remember James for his positivity and good sense of humour – and for being one of the most friendly, thoughtful and well-liked people in the House of Commons. His passing is a profound loss to us all.
“He was a politician who commanded affection and respect from colleagues, no matter which party they represented. In a career spanning 16 years, James’ contribution to public life was immense, serving in successive governments in ministerial roles across the Home Office, as well as serving as secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, and later secretary of state for Northern Ireland. His commitment to serving his constituents in Old Bexley and Sidcup was also obvious to anybody he knew.
“Today is a very sad day. My thoughts go out to his wife Cathy and their three children.”
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