Michael Gove to stand down at general election in blow to Rishi Sunak amid record Tory MP exodus

Housing secretary Michael Gove has become the latest high-profile Tory MP to announce that he will not stand at the July 4 general election.

The veteran cabinet minister cited the "toll" of public office as he said it was time to let "a new generation lead" following a political career spanning nearly 20 years.

He has been the MP for Surrey Heath since 2005 and has served in multiple cabinets under four differient prime ministers.

In a letter to his constituency chairman, Mr veteran cabinet minister said being an MP and minister has been a "profound privilege".

He praised Rishi Sunak for espousing "the very best virtues" of the Tory party but said "it is time to leave".

His decision will be a major blow to Mr Sunak amid a faltering start to the Prime Minister’s election campaign that has seen a record number of Conservative MPs announcing they will not be fighting for re-election.

They included leading Brexiteer and former Tory leadership candidate Andrea Leadsom, another senior Tory MP who made the announcement on Friday evening shortly after Mr Gove that she would also be standing down.

Mr Gove shared his letter to the chairman of the Surrey Heath Conservatives, in which he wrote: "Having the chance to serve as a Member of Parliament and Minister has been a profound privilege. As a child in Aberdeen I could never have imagined I would have the opportunity to sit in the Commons, let alone around the Cabinet table.

"My parents, who adopted me when I was four months old, brought me up to believe that the chance to help others is the greatest gift you can be given.

"That four Prime Ministers asked me to serve the country in their Governments has been the honour of my life.

"I am grateful to them all: David Cameron who gave me the chance to pursue the education reforms in which I passionately believe, Theresa May who asked me to support her in challenging times, Boris Johnson who delivered Brexit and set out the levelling up vision which is so important for our country, and Rishi Sunak who asked me to return to Government when I believed my ministerial career had ended, enabling me to deepen and intensify the levelling up programme.

"His support has ensured we can deliver projects which are benefitting towns and communities in all parts of the country. Having seen up close the demands of the role I know we all owe them so much."

The number of Tory MPs quitting at this election has beaten the previous Conservative Party record set in 1997 when Labour won by a landslide.

Some 78 Tory MPs have announced they are standing down, surpassing the 75 who stood down 27 years ago when Sir Tony Blair swept to power. On Friday evening, 11 had announced they were stepping down since Rishi Sunak called the election on Thursday.

Prominent Tories who had already announced they are not standing for re-election, prior to the July 4 poll being called, included Former Prime Minister Theresa May, Dominic Raab, the former deputy prime minister, Ben Wallace, the former defence secretary, and former home secretary Sajid Javid.

A constituency-level poll by YouGov last month projected Mr Gove was on track to keep his Surrey Heath seat by a margin of just one per cent, with the Conservatives on 33 per cent and the Liberal Democrats 32 per cent.

There are always MPs who stand down at elections, but the number who are stepping down for the Tories is a blow to Mr Sunak as he seeks to try and gain momentum amid a difficult start to the election campaign.

He was soaked in Downing Street as he announced the election, make a footballing gaffe as he visited Wales and was mocked for visiting the Titanic Quarter in Belfast on Friday during his whistlestop tour of the UK to kick off the campaign.

He also had to admit on Thursday that no deportation flights would take off for Rwanda before the July 4 general election - a blow to his flagship immigration policy.The visit to the advanced maritime manufacturing facility in the Titanic Quarter led to some unfortunate comparisons being drawn with his party's fortunes.

"Are you captaining a sinking ship going into this election?" a Belfast Live reporter asked him.

The Prime Minister replied by repeating his mantra that "our plan is working".

But former Scottish Tory leader Baroness Ruth Davidson was not impressed, tweeting: "The deluge launch drowned out by D:Ream.

"A brewery visit with a teetotal PM, so no chance of a piss-up.

"Now a site visit to something famous for sinking.

"Is there a double agent in CCHQ (Conservative Campaign Headquarters), and were they a headline writer in a previous life?

"Our candidates deserve better."

However speaking to journalists on the flight from Belfast, Mr Sunak said he was "up for the fight".

He said: "I love doing this. I've been doing it since the beginning of the year, I've been out and about pretty much two, three days a week since the beginning of the year and I love it.

"I love talking to people, I love having the debate, I love having the Q&A with people, answering their questions, making sure they know what I'm about and I'm really confident that over the next few weeks we're going to have a really good conversation as a country about the future we want."