There have been jokes on the internet about how his name is appropriate for a place like Northern Ireland.
But, with no personal slight intended, James Brokenshire is a senior upgrade from Villiers and a reflection of the fact that North-South relations will take on a heightened importance in upcoming Brexit negotiations.
May’s right-hand man at the Home Office, Brokenshire was responsible for developing the UK Government’s immigration policy. He will, like all NI Secretaries of State, report directly to Cabinet in Westminster.
Unlike Villiers, Mrs May was emphatic that a Brexit vote would affect the border. She clearly wants someone she trusts, is experienced, capable and, importantly, also visible on the ground on the Irish side of the water.
The last seriously activist Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was Peter Hain. It was his job as night-watchman for Tony Blair’s retirement year to get the St Andrews Agreement over the line (at almost, but not quite, any cost).
Since then the Tory party’s accession to power, its policy regarding Northern Ireland and devolution, has been a steady policy of hands off. They have strongly resisted calls for intervention at times of crisis in Stormont.
Brokenshire is likely to keep his distance from Stormont’s domestic business. But we might also expect him to play a key role in taking soundings from all parties and the local electorate in developing amendments to the CTA and NS and EW trade.
His status as a Remain campaigner during the campaign is unlikely to translate into someone who is sympathetic to the ambitions of those in Northern Ireland still looking for some means to retain NI’s status within the EU.
This is likely to be the big issue in Northern Ireland and the Republic for the rest of Mrs May’s term of office.
Meanwhile, Ms Villiers reportedly refused a non-cabinet position in favour of returning to the Tory backbenches. Presumably to be closer to the post-Brexit game that’s likely to follow.
On other Cabinet matters:
– Boris Johnson was a Brexiteer. As Foreign Secretary, he will be kept busy jetting around Europe and the rest of the world. It’s an unexpected but prestigious and demanding appointment. Mrs May has time to be ruthless with him should he screw up.
– Sacking Osborne breaks the connection with the past, and signals an end to Osborne’s obsessions with measures that he was unable to control (eg deficits). It also frees up the opportunity to be creative with budgets going forwards.
– David Davis is serious minded and principled. Though his own personal agenda for Brexit look (to say the very least) a stretch. But putting the Brexiteers in the very front line means they’ll be the ones to take the flak if it goes wrong.
– This is a big stakes game for Ireland too. Taoiseach is convening a cabinet committee which will prioritise a successful negotiation with the British, and preservation of trade, free movement, and the all-island economy will be top priorities for him.
How long he lasts into the negotiation period remains a tantalising question.
NB: Mick will be on Radio Ulster tomorrow at about 7-15am slot talking about this anther other related matters.