Fresh blow for PM as two ministers quit in a day

Credit: UK Government

Two government ministers resigned on Tuesday 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 Halfon quoted the Lord of the Rings in his resignation letter, writing "I often feel more like the character Bilbo Baggins than Gandalf".

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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.”

In a letter to the prime minister: “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.”

Downing Street has announced MP for Aldershot Leo Docherty will replace Mr Heappey as Armed Forces Minister, and MP for Thornbury and Yate Luke Hall will replace Mr Halfon.

The prime minister responded to Mr Heappey's resignation saying "I am sorry to hear you will be standing down as a member of Parlisament at the next election.

"I appreciate that your decision will not have been an easy one to make, but I respect your reasons for doing so."

In a similar message to Mr Halfon, the PM said "I know the people of Harlow will be saddened to lose you as their MP, after years of loyal and selfless service".

Number 10 denied the prime minister had been struggling to fill the two positions after being asked about it by journalists.

On Tuesday, Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey gave rare praise of Mr Heappey in the Commons: "Since the last election we've had five chancellors, four foreign secretaries, three prime ministers, two defence secretaries, but only one armed forces minister."

Mr Healey said Mr Heappey had been "a rare constant in the turmoil of government".

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.

The two men 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.

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