James Brokenshire

Part of Speaker's Statement – in the House of Commons at 1:37 pm on 20th October 2021.

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Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning Conservative, Hemel Hempstead 1:37 pm, 20th October 2021

As Essex boys, James and I got on like a house on fire when we were both elected in 2005. Interestingly enough, as we became Ministers together, we shared Departments. I have listened very carefully to the fact that James got all the difficult bits and the Policing Minister didn’t—some of that was news to me!

When we were both shadow Ministers, we used to drive home together and we would chew the cud about many things as new Members of Parliament. James was a wonderful human being and he was a family man. We invariably talked about family things on the way home. I knew that I would have to move my daughters out of their school in Southend to my new constituency in Hemel Hempstead, and he talked to me about how difficult that was going to be for me.

I apologise to Cathy: we sat outside your house many a time when I was dropping him off, and he did not come in quite as soon as he should have done because we talked about other things as well, particularly his haircut. For those who did not know James in his early days here, he had a wonderful flat-top—and how carefully it was trimmed. We used to spend hours talking about it! People may think that men do not talk about that sort of thing, but we did. We talked about our kids and life in general, as well as the greasy pole.

When James went to Northern Ireland, he said, “You’ve been there, Mike. Can I take some advice from you?”. We have heard so much in this House about people taking advice from James, but he was a sponge; he wanted to listen to other people’s experiences, whether in the constituency or as former Ministers. He continued up that greasy pole while some firemen, like myself, disappeared down it, but he was absolutely brilliant at putting his arm around you when you needed that five minutes.

I phoned James a couple of weeks before his sad death, and we chatted about the usual banter and bits and bobs. I apologised for phoning him because it was obvious how poorly he was at that time, but he said, “Nah, it’s all right, mate. We’re Essex boys together; we can have a chat.” That was James, and I am so proud to have known him for so long.