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Education Minister Robert Halfon has resigned from government, confirming he will be the 63rd Conservative MP to stand down at the next election.

The MP for Harlow, who has been in parliament since 2010, said “political life, while fulfilling, has its ups and downs”, and he felt it was “time for me to step down”.

He will be replaced in the Department for Education by Luke Hall, the MP for Thornbury and Yate near Bristol.

Politics live: Two ministers join growing Tory exodus

Quoting the wizard Gandalf from Lord of the Rings in his resignation letter to the prime minister, and having been a Tory candidate for almost 25 years, Mr Halfon said: “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.”

Rishi Sunak responded by saying he was “very sorry to hear” of his decision, but added: “I respect your reasons for doing so.”

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The announcement from Mr Halfon – who has also served as deputy chairman of the Conservative Party and chair of the education select committee – came on the same day Armed Forces minister James Heappey officially left his post in government.

He will be replaced by the former junior Foreign Office minister and MP for Aldershot in Hampshire, Leo Docherty, who previously served as Minister for Defence People and Veterans under Boris Johnson.

Earlier this month, a source close to the MP for the Wells constituency in Somerset said he had decided to leave parliament because of personal reasons, and his ministerial resignation was expected to coincide with Easter recess.

But the timing was significant as there had been growing disquiet among Conservative MPs and military insiders at a failure by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to announce new funding for the armed forces in his spring budget.

However, the source said said while “of course he thinks there should be more money”, it was not why Mr Heappey was resigning.

Confirming his departure on X, Mr Heappy said he “loved every minute” of his job, but added: “The work isn’t done.

“Ukraine needs our support now as much as ever. Perhaps even more so. Theirs is a fight for the future of Euro-Atlantic security and so we must continue to lead the world in the breadth [and] bravery of our support.”

In a letter to the now former minister, Mr Sunak thanked him for his “outstanding service and contribution to our party, parliament and country”.

As part of the mini-reshuffle, former education minister under Liz Truss, Jonathan Gullis, has been made a deputy chairman of the Tory party, along with MP for Guildford Angela Richardson.

Nus Ghani has been made minister for Europe, leaving her roles at the Department for Business and Trade and the Cabinet Office, being replaced by Havant MP Alan Mak.

And Kevin Hollinrake, who has overseen the Post Office during recent turbulence, has been promoted to minister of state for business.

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Meanwhile, Labour has promoted a number of its by-election winning MPs into frontbench positions.

Selby and Ainsty victor Keir Mather will join the shadow whips office, Gen Kitchen will go to the shadow Home Office, Tamworth MP Sarah Edwards will become part of the environment team and Kingswood’s Damien Egan will join the education team.

Batley and Spen MP Kim Leadbeater will also move roles from the whips to join the shadow health team.

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Sunak set for week-long blitz of announcements amid talk of no-confidence vote and summer election

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Sunak set for week-long blitz of announcements amid talk of no-confidence vote and summer election

Rishi Sunak is undertaking a week-long blitz of activity and announcements at home and abroad in a bid to convince a sceptical party he has the ideas and drive to continue as prime minister.

After weeks of criticism about an empty legislative agenda, an inability to set the agenda, and divisions in the Tory Party dominating the headlines, this week “action man” Mr Sunak will seek to take back control with news conferences, interviews and announcements.

On the Politics At Jack And Sam’s podcast, we discuss how Mr Sunak is aware of a possible challenge to his position with a vote of no confidence after the local and mayoral elections on 2 May.

He is undertaking a burst of activity to be able to point to his MPs to a rich agenda both this side of a general election and beyond.

👉 Listen above then tap here to follow Politics at Jack at Sam’s wherever you get your podcasts 👈

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‘Patience is thin’ over Rwanda bill delays

On Monday, the PM will hold a news conference to champion the likely passage into law of the emergency Rwanda legislation first announced last year.

Then on Tuesday, he will embark on a two-day European trip, beginning in Warsaw, with a major announcement planned as part of the trip.

Some sources expect the announcement to be defence-related, possibly around jointly training troops and sharing equipment with Poland and the West Balkans.

This is Mr Sunak’s first major trip on to the world stage in months, apart from a brief visit to Ukraine.

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It follows his first set-piece speech outside the Commons last Friday about welfare reform.

Many of the ideas there were designed for the manifesto and to be implemented in the next parliament in the unlikely event the Tories win.

The looming spectre of a challenge has led to some conversations about holding the election over the summer, with the starting gun fired possibly even announced before the local elections.

This remains unlikely, however, since it would be possible for the opposition to present this as a move prompted by panic, and the Tories remain around 20 points behind in the polls.

Therefore appealing to his party to allow him to stay in the job, by showing a blizzard of action and announcements, is a priority for Mr Sunak amid continued speculation about his party’s unhappiness.

Some 57 Tory MPs voted against his flagship smoking ban policy last week, with a further more than 100 abstaining, in a sign of his lack of grip on the party.

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The Week… Rishi tries to save his skin

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The Week... Rishi tries to save his skin

Two of Westminster’s best-connected journalists, Sky News’s Sam Coates and Politico’s Jack Blanchard, guide you through their top predictions for the next seven days in British politics.

This week, they react to MP Mark Menzies’ resignation from the Conservative Party and look at what it might mean for the next election.

Also this week, Rishi Sunak is packing his bags for Europe. Jack and Sam discuss what’s on the trip’s agenda, including highly anticipated announcements on the defence of Ukraine, as well as the UK’s wider defence and warfare strategy.

Mr Sunak’s Rwanda plan could finally pass through parliament too, more than five months after he unveiled the emergency laws. Jack and Sam reveal the final stage will be far from straightforward though, with MPs told to expect a long night in the Commons.

Plus, Angela Rayner is standing in for Keir Starmer at PMQs this week, the first time she’s been in the Commons since police announced they were investigating her. Jack and Sam discuss how she’ll deal with the mounting pressure.

👉 Listen above then tap here to follow Politics at Jack at Sam’s wherever you get your podcasts 👈

Email with your thoughts and rate how their predictions play out: jackandsam@sky.uk or jackandsam@politico.co.uk

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Mark Menzies: MP accused of misusing campaign funds quits Tory Party and won’t stand at next election

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Mark Menzies: MP accused of misusing campaign funds quits Tory Party and won't stand at next election

An MP facing allegations of misusing campaign funds has quit the Conservative Party and says he won’t stand at the next general election.

Claims surfaced earlier this week in The Times that Mark Menzies had used political donations to cover medical expenses and pay off “bad people” who had reportedly locked him in a flat and demanded thousands of pounds for his release.

The backbench MP for Fylde in Lancashire disputed the allegations but was suspended from the Conservative parliamentary party while an investigation took place.

In a statement, Mr Menzies said: “It has been an enormous privilege representing the people of Fylde since 2010, but due to the pressures on myself and my elderly mother, I have decided to resign from the Conservative Party and will not stand at the forthcoming general election.

“This has been a very difficult week for me and I request that my family’s privacy is respected.”

Lancashire Police said it was reviewing “information” about Mr Menzies after Labour asked for an investigation.

Speaking to Sky News’ Electoral Dysfunction podcast, former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson had called the latest scandal and allegations against Mr Menzies “jaw-dropping”.

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The claims surrounding Mr Menzies came to light after the outgoing MP’s former campaign manager, Katie Fieldhouse, spoke to the Times, prompting the Conservative Party to launch its own internal investigation into whether there had been a misuses of its funds.

She claimed the Conservative Party was aware the allegations about Mr Menzies were potentially criminal, alleging that the party’s chief of staff “told me that when they first took over the investigation [from the Whips’ Office] they had consulted solicitors”.

She added: “He told me on the phone, ‘the solicitor said it is fraud but you are not duty-bound to report it because it’s not Conservative Party money’.”

On Sunday a Conservative Party spokesperson said its investigation was now complete and had found there had not been a misuse of funds – but that it had identified a “pattern of behaviour that falls below the standards expected of MPs”.

“The money in question that was sent to Mark Menzies MP was signed off by the two signatories of Fylde Westminster Group,” the spokesperson said.

“This body sits outside of the remit of both the Conservative Party and Fylde Conservative Association. Therefore we cannot conclude that there has been a misuse of Conservative Party funds.

“However, we do believe that there has been a pattern of behaviour that falls below the standards expected of MPs and individuals looking after donations to local campaign funds which lie outside the direct jurisdiction of the Conservative Party.

“We will therefore be commencing with retraining individuals across the party on how to manage these accounts which fall outside of the remit of the Conservative Party and are introducing a whistleblowing helpline.”

They continued: “Furthermore, whilst outside of the initial scope of this investigation, there has also been a recommendation that the actions of the MP in question have also potentially breached the Nolan principals of public life.”

“This is due to the nature of the allegations made, but also the repetitive nature of these separate allegations. These will be reviewed by the Conservative Party’s member governance team.

“We will of course share any information with the police if they believe it would be helpful to any investigation they decide to undertake.

“Suggestions the party has not been seriously examining this matter are demonstrably false as we have worked to protect the identities of all those involved whilst the facts could be established.”

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