Rishi Sunak forced into mini-reshuffle after two ministers quit amid Tory MP exodus at next election

Rishi Sunak forced into mini-reshuffle after two ministers quit amid Tory MP exodus at next election

Two respected ministers announced they are quitting their roles as the Tory exodus from the Commons grew.

Skills minister Robert Halfon and armed forces minister James Heappey broke the news of their departures just hours after Rishi Sunak appeared before the Common Liaison Committee ahead of the Commons rising for Easter.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Halfon said: “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.”

The Harlow MP is a former chairman of the Commons education committee and advocate of Blue Collar Conservatism, who is seen as more in touch with voters than some of his Tory colleagues.

Mr Heappey had already said he is quitting as an MP at the next election.

But he confirmed his resignation as armed forces minister.

The Tory MP for Wells posted on X: “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.”

As part of the changes, Nus Ghani has been selected to be Minister for Europe in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office; Leo Docherty will serve in the Ministry of Defence, Kevin Hollinrake will go to the business department, Luke Hall will be a minister in the Department for Education and Alan Mak will serve as a parliamentary under secretary.

More than 60 MPs elected as Conservatives, some who are currently sitting as independents, have now said they are standing down at the election, with the Tories flatlining in the polls on about 20 per cent, way behind Labour with some surveys putting the gap at up to 27 points.

The departure of the two middle-ranking ministers comes after ex-Prime Minister Theresa May and a string of former Cabinet ministers including ex-Home Secretary Sajid Javid said they would be going at the election, expected in the autumn.

A number of London Tory MPs are also standing down including Nickie Aiken, MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, Sutton and Cheam MP Paul Scully and Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond.

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.

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.”

Reflecting on his time at the Ministry of Defence, Mr Heappey added: “From the first COBR on Covid-19 to the most recent Ukraine Donor Contact Group last week in Ramstein via Kabul, Kyiv, Kosovo, Khartoum and the Southern Red Sea. It’s been an incredibly busy four and a half years.

“But the work isn’t done. Ukraine needs our support now as much as ever. Perhaps even more so. Their’s is a fight for the future of Euro-Atlantic security and so we must continue to lead the world in the breadth & bravery of our support.

“My sincerest thanks to all who serve so brilliantly in our nation’s armed forces & to the families that stand behind them. We’re asking a lot of them at the moment - rightly so, the geo-political situation demands it - and we should never forget their sacrifice.”

The announcements from the two ministers came the day after disgraced ex-Tory MP Scott Benton resigned forcing a “Red Wall” by-election for the Prime Minister.

The Blackpool South MP was facing the prospect of being removed from his seat by voters after being caught in a lobbying scandal.