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Robert Halfon unexpectedly quits as minister in fresh headache for Rishi Sunak

Robert Halfon has resigned from Rishi Sunak’s government in a shock announcement, saying he will not stand as an MP at the next general election.

Quitting as skills, apprenticeships and higher education minister, Mr Halfon told 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.”

Mr Halfon added: “I believe that across the country, there is a quiet admiration for your work ethic, integrity and ability to solve complex problems faced by our country.”

Mr Halfon said he would “wholeheartedly” support the PM from the back benches ahead of the next general election while championing his Harlow constituency.

Robert Halfon has quit as skills, apprenticeships and higher education minister (PA Media)
Robert Halfon has quit as skills, apprenticeships and higher education minister (PA Media)

It came as armed forces minister James Heappey officially left his role in government, weeks after announcing he would step down.

Mr Heappey is also quitting as an MP at the next general election. The minister, who served in the army in Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland before joining parliament, said in a letter published online that he had made a “painful decision” to stand down as a candidate in the upcoming general election.

He continued: “I have concluded that now is the time to step away from politics, prioritise my family, and pursue a different career”.

James Heappey will stand down as an MP at the next election (PA Archive)
James Heappey will stand down as an MP at the next election (PA Archive)

In a letter to Mr Heappey, the prime minister said: “You have made an important contribution to government and your support to consecutive Conservative administrations at the Ministry of Defence has been commendable.”

And, responding to Mr Halfon’s resignation, Mr Sunak said: “I was very sorry to hear of your decision to step down from government, as well as your intention to stand down at the next election.”

The unexpected resignation of Mr Halfon is the latest blow to Mr Sunak, who is facing a brutal set of local elections within weeks.

Mr Heappey and Mr Halfon are the 62nd and 63rd Conservative MPs to announce plans to step down at the general election, expected to be held in October.

Leo Docherty will replace James Heappey as armed forces minister, while Luke Hall has been appointed to the Department for Education following the departure of Robert Halfon.

Other moves in the mini-reshuffle triggered by the ministers’ resignations include Nus Ghani becoming minister for Europe at the Foreign Office and Alan Mak becoming a junior minister jointly in the Department for Business and Trade and the Cabinet Office.

Kevin Hollinrake, who as Post Office minister held a junior ministerial role, has now been promoted to minister of state in the Department for Business and Trade.