Ministers Robert Halfon and James Heappey quit government in mini-reshuffle

James Heappey (left) and Robert Halfon
James Heappey (left) and Robert Halfon both resigned as ministers on Tuesday

Two ministers have quit their government roles forcing Rishi Sunak to reshuffle his team.

Robert Halfon announced he was resigning as an education minister, while James Heappey followed through on a previous promise to step down as armed forces minister.

Both MPs are standing down at the next general election.

In their place, Leo Docherty will become armed forces minister and Luke Hall education minister.

Mr Heappey, who has represented Wells in Somerset since 2015, announced his intention to quit as an MP and stand down as a minister earlier this month.

Mr Halfon, who as a minister had responsibility for apprenticeships and skills, has been Tory MP for Harlow since 2010.

Both MPs have written resignation letters so loyal to Mr Sunak they could have been penned by Number 10.

Each will have their own personal reasons for their decision.

It is certainly not a bombshell blow to the PM - but the resignations are part of a trend. Of the 98 MPs who have announced they will not stand at the next election, most are Conservatives.

Some, like Theresa May and Dominic Raab, are veterans. Others, like Dehenna Davison and Nicola Richards, relatively young and new to the Commons.

All of them want to do something else with their lives.

But every Conservative can also read the opinion polls which currently suggest the Tory party could soon be in opposition.

Before the 2010 election, 150 MPs announced they would stand down, mainly from the Labour party.

In power for 13 years, Labour MPs knew their days in office could be numbered.

What is starting to look like a voluntary exodus of Tory MPs from the Commons may only accelerate as polling day gets closer.

In other changes to government roles, following the two resignations:

  • Nus Ghani becomes minister for Europe in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

  • Kevin Hollinrake is promoted to minister of state in the Department for Business and Trade but keeps his responsibility for postal affairs

  • Alan Mak becomes parliamentary under secretary of state jointly in the Department for Business and Trade and the Cabinet Office

  • Jonathan Gullis and Angela Richardson both become deputy party chairs

Nus Ghani
Nus Ghani is moving to the Foreign Office

In his resignation letter, Mr Halfon said he believed there was "quiet admiration" for Mr Sunak across the country.

He also quoted from one of his favourite novels, J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, in his resignation thread, saying he believed the words "perfectly capture my feelings as I move onto my next journey in life".

"I am with you at present…but soon I shall not be. I am not coming to the Shire…My time is over: it is no longer my task to set things to rights, nor to help folk to do so. And as for you, my dear friends, you will need no help…among the great you are, and I have no longer any fear at all for any of you," wrote the MP, quoting fictional wizard Gandalf.

He served as deputy chairman of the Conservative Party when David Cameron was prime minister and is a former chairman of the education select committee.

Mr Sunak praised his work promoting apprenticeships in his reply to his resignation letter.

Mr Heappey also assured Mr Sunak of his "full commitment" until the end of this Parliament.

The prime minister has said his "working assumption is there will be a general election in the second half of this year.

In a thread posted on X, Mr Heappey said he had "loved every minute" in "this incredible department".

But behind the scenes the former soldier was unhappy at the level of military spending and issued a departing plea this week for the defence spending target of 2.5% of GDP to be "achieved urgently".

He is also believed to be nursing wounds from last year's reshuffle, when he was overlooked for the defence secretary role in favour of Grant Shapps, who has no military experience.

Mr Heappey and Mr Halfon join a growing exodus of Tory MPs from the Commons, currently tallying 63, as the Tories languish in the polls ahead of the national vote expected later this year.

The number of MPs standing down is broadly in line with the 90 who quit in 2015, while 149 quit before the 2010 election that followed the expenses scandal and saw Labour ejected from power after 13 years.

Number of MPs standing down so far:

Total: 98

Conservative: 63

Labour: 16

SNP: 9

Plaid Cymru: 1

Green: 1

Sinn Fein: 2

Independent: 6 (Matt Hancock, Julian Knight, Crispin Blunt, Bob Stewart formerly Conservatives; Conor McGinn, Nick Brown formerly Labour).