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Two ministers quit in double blow to Rishi Sunak

26 Mar 2024 3 minute read
Photo Henry Nicholls/PA Wire

Two UK Government ministers have resigned in a double blow to Rishi Sunak, who will be forced to carry out a mini-reshuffle of his team.

Robert Halfon unexpectedly quit as skills, apprenticeships and higher education minister, while James Heappey followed through on his stated intention to step down as armed forces minister ahead of exiting Parliament at the general election.

Veteran MP Mr Halfon, who has served in a series of senior roles since first being elected to Parliament in 1999, said in a letter to Mr Sunak: “After well over two decades as the Harlow Parliamentary Candidate and as MP, I feel that it is time for me to step down at the forthcoming general election, and in doing so, to resign as a minister in your Government.”


Mr Heappey, the Conservative MP for Wells, Somerset, earlier this month announced his plan to quit as an MP and to stand down as a minister before then.

In a thread posted to X, he wrote: “I’ve loved every minute as MinAF in this incredible department.

“Our Armed Forces & MoD civil servants are the very best of us.

“Representing them in Parliament & around the world over last 4.5 years has been an amazing privilege.”

Mr Sunak thanked Mr Heappey for his “invaluable role in implementing the Government’s Defence agenda”.

“You have made an important contribution to Government and your support to consecutive Conservative administrations at the Ministry of Defence has been commendable,” the Prime Minister wrote in a letter.

‘Resignation watch’

Mr Heappey had reportedly been on “resignation watch” from his ministerial role after telling colleagues privately that he was unhappy about the level of defence spending.

During a 10-year career in the Rifles, Mr Heappey served in Afghanistan, Iraq, Northern Ireland and Kenya.

He had been hotly tipped to succeed Ben Wallace as defence secretary following his resignation last year.

But Mr Sunak instead gave the Cabinet post to Grant Shapps, who has no military experience.

In his letter to Mr Halfon, Mr Sunak told Mr Halfon he was “very sorry to hear” of his decision to step down from Government and to stand down at the next election.

“You have made an important contribution to our public life, spanning almost 25 years,” the Prime Minister wrote.

He commended Mr Halfon for being a “stalwart champion” for apprenticeships and promoting social mobility.

The Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes said he was “sorry” to hear of Mr Halfon’s departure.

“He has been a passionate champion for further education, skills and apprenticeships throughout his tenure as chair of the education select committee, and as minister, bringing to the roles a commitment to colleges and to understand from students and apprentices as much he can about what works for them.”

Mr Heappey and Mr Halfon join a growing exodus of Tory MPs from the Commons as the Conservatives languish in the polls ahead of the national vote expected later this year.

More than 60 Conservatives have so far said they do not plan to run.

Downing Street said it was “not aware” of a new rule that if a minister is not fighting the next election, they have to quit the Government immediately.

Asked the question, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters: “I’m not aware of it.

“It’s up to individuals to make these choices.”


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3 months ago

And they just made Gullis deputy chair, treble blow then.

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
3 months ago

Ship sinking. Man the lifeboats.

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