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Brooke, Basil (Northern Ireland, United Kingdom)

Reference work entry

Introduction

Basil Brooke, who became 1st Viscount Brookeborough in 1952, was a British Ulster Unionist who served as Northern Ireland’s prime minister from 1943 until 1963. A hard-line anti-Catholic, the later years of his tenure were dominated by a declining economy. He resigned the premiership on health grounds.

Early Life

Basil Stanlake Brooke was born on 9 June 1888, in Colebrooke Park, Brookeborough, County Fermanagh. His father was Sir Arthur Douglas Brooke, the 4th Baronet, and the family was raised on a 30,000-acre estate.

Basil was schooled for 5 years in Pau, in southwest France before attending Winchester College and then the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. He succeeded his father to become the 5th Baronet in 1907. In 1908 he joined the Royal Fusiliers and, 3 years later, the 10th Hussars. He served with distinction in the First World War before giving up military life for farming in 1920.

In 1921 he entered the Northern Ireland senate but served only a year before becoming commandant of the Ulster Special Constabulary, which was focussed on defeating the IRA. In 1929 he won the Lisnakea constituency in County Fermanagh and took his seat in Northern Ireland’s parliament on behalf of the Ulster Unionist Party. He became minister of agriculture in 1933, urging landowners not to employ Catholics, whom he accused of being ‘out to destroy Ulster’. He took over the commerce portfolio in 1941.

Career Peak

When John Andrews came under pressure to resign as prime minister in 1943, Brooke stepped in to replace him. He remained in parliament despite being made a Viscount in 1952 (which qualified him for a seat in the House of Lords). During his tenure, he sought to tighten links between the government and the Orange Order while distancing Catholics and trades unionists.

Northern Ireland’s industrial base crumbled badly from the 1950s on. Popular support for Brooke fell away and his inability to reverse the economic decline prompted doubts over his leadership from within his own party. In 1963 he gave up the premiership because of poor health but remained in the Northern Irish parliament for another 5 years.

Later Life

From the back benches Brooke strongly opposed the conciliatory approach to Dublin taken by his successor, Terrence O’Neill. Away from politics, Brooke built up a large portfolio of business interests. He died at his family home on 18 Aug. 1973.

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