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James Brokenshire, ‘the nicest man in politics’, dies aged 53 after battle with cancer

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James Brokenshire, ‘the nicest man in politics’, dies aged 53 after battle with cancer

Boris Johnson has led tributes to James Brokenshire as the “nicest” man in politics, following the former Cabinet minister’s death at the age of 53.

The Tory MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup died “peacefully” in hospital while surrounded by family on Thursday evening after battling lung cancer.

The married father of three, who was not a smoker, was first diagnosed in 2017 and disclosed in July that his recovery was taking longer than anticipated.

He announced he was stepping back from his frontbench role as security minister in order to focus on his health as he received a new treatment. He had previously served as housing secretary and Northern Ireland secretary.

Politicians from across the Commons lined up to pay tribute to Mr Brokenshire in a show of unity, alongside the Cabinet Secretary and Archbishop of Canterbury.

The flags in New Palace Yard in the Palace of Westminster were lowered to half-mast and formal tributes are expected in the House when Parliament returns from recess on Oct 18.

The Prime Minister branded the MP the “nicest, kindest and most unassuming of politicians”, noting that he had “served with particular distinction” in the Home Office.

“If the Government needed something done well and speedily – and sensibly explained – James was the man to do it,” Mr Johnson said.

He added that Mr Brokenshire’s “fight against cancer was heroic” and said: “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.”

The MP’s family released a statement on Friday morning announcing his death “with deep sadness”.

James Brokenshire - Geoff Pugh/

© Geoff Pugh/ James Brokenshire - Geoff Pugh/

It said: “James died peacefully at Darent Valley Hospital yesterday evening with family members by his bedside. He had been in hospital since Sunday after his condition rapidly deteriorated.”

His family described him as a “brilliant” minister and a “dedicated” constituency MP, first for Hornchurch from 2005 to 2010 and then for Old Bexley & 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,” the statement said.

“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.

“We would also ask that our privacy as a family is respected at this time.”

Two former prime ministers paid their respects, with David Cameron describing Mr Brokenshire as a “hard-working and dedicated MP” and “a thoroughly decent and lovely man” who was devoted to his family.

Theresa May, meanwhile, called him “an outstanding public servant, a talented minister and a loyal friend”.

Cabinet members also weighed in. Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, described him as a “man of public service and the highest integrity” who was a “valued friend and colleague”.

Mr Brokenshire - Geoff Pugh

© Provided by The Telegraph Mr Brokenshire - Geoff Pugh

Brandon Lewis, who succeeded Mr Brokenshire as Northern Ireland Secretary, said he was “an immensely kind and generous man” who was “admired by all who had the privilege to know him and work with him”.

Senior figures from the Stormont executive in Northern Ireland and the Irish government also expressed their condolences to his family.

In Westminster, Labour politicians and the head of the civil service expressed their sadness at his death.

Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Brokenshire was “a thoroughly decent man, dedicated and effective in all briefs he held”, adding: “He fought his illness with dignity and bravery.”

On behalf of Whitehall, Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, said he was “a man of deep kindness and integrity” who “inspired respect and loyalty from the civil servants who worked for him” during his ministerial career.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said Mr Brokenshire’s “courage and faith were an inspiration to so many, myself included”.

Mr Brokenshire helped the family of Charlotte Brown, 24, fight for justice after her killer Jack Shepherd, from whose speedboat she was flung on the River Thames, fled to Georgia and contested extradition.

Her father, Graham Brown, who lived in the MP’s constituency, described him as “a true gentleman and thoroughly genuine”.

He added: “Without his help Jack Shepherd would not have been brought to trial. Thank you James for the tremendous compassion you gave our family at a time of crisis.”

Mr Brokenshire first made public his lung cancer diagnosis in 2018, explaining how he was prompted to see his GP after coughing up a small amount of blood.

He underwent surgery to remove the upper lobe of his right lung. At the beginning of this year, he suffered a recurrence of a tumour in his lung and later said the “somewhat troublesome” lung had been removed by surgeons at Guy’s Hospital in south London.

However, in August he confirmed his lung cancer had “progressed” and he was starting a new line of treatment.

Mr Brokenshire said much stigma surrounds lung cancer, with many people incorrectly believing it is only caused by smoking, and backed calls for a national screening programme for the illness. 

Reference: The Telegraph: Lucy Fisher

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