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Armed forces minister James Heappey to quit role and stand down as MP at next election

Armed forces minister James Heappey is to leave his role in government and quit as an MP at the next general election.

Mr Heappey, Tory MP for Wells in Somerset, is stepping down to prioritise his family and pursue a different career.

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.

Mr Heappey served in the army before becoming an MP (PA)
Mr Heappey served in the army before becoming an MP (PA)

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

He said that he would continue to support prime minster Rishi Sunak in his leadership of the Conservative party as a minister “until such time as he wishes me to step down, and then from the backbenches” - adding: “I intend to make each of my remaining days in Westminster count”.

Responding to Mr Heappey’s announcement on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, his former boss Ben Wallace said: “James, you are an outstanding minister and one of the best.

“Your work on defence and support to the agenda of reform was indispensable. There is a lot to be proud of. Thank you”.

Shadow armed forces minister Luke Pollard wished Mr Heappey well, saying: “James and I come from different political traditions but, as his shadow, I have always respected him as a minister. In particular I want to thank him for his support to our friends in Ukraine in resisting Putin’s illegal and brutal invasion.”

LidDem’s defence spokesperson Richard Foord said the resignation was “yet another blow to Rishi Sunak’s authority”. He added: “Sunak needs to put the country out of its misery and call an election now instead of allowing this farce to drag on any longer.”

Mr Heappey was made a minister by Boris Johnson in 2022 after endorsing him to be leader of the Tory party. He had been a front-runner to replace Mr Wallace as defence secretary but the job was given to Grant Shapps instead.

The Times, who first broke the story, reported that Mr Heappey would be standing down from his ministerial role at the end of the month.

The newspaper quoted an anonymous Tory MP who said the veteran had been on “resignation watch” after telling colleagues privately that he was unhappy about the level of defence spending. However another source told the paper that while Mr Heappey had been pushing for increased spending this didn’t have anything to do with his decision to stand down.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s recent budget contained no new money for defence despite multiple ministers publicly calling for an increase to spending.

Mr Heappey adds his name to a growing list of Tory MPs to announce they are to leave Parliament, with former prime minister Theresa May and former party chairman Sir Brandon Lewis some of the most recent additions. He is the 62nd Tory MP to announce that they will not be standing at the next election.

Mr Sunak on Thursday ruled out holding an election on May 2 to coincide with local elections, having previously indicated he will send the country to the polls in the latter half of 2024.

Mr Heappey’s constituency of Wells currently has a Tory majority of 9,991, with the LibDems being the second most popular party.

The Ministry of Defence said it would not be commenting.