Armed forces minister James Heappey resigns and becomes 62nd Tory to give up seat ahead of election

15 March 2024, 10:01 | Updated: 15 March 2024, 13:42

Armed forces minister James Heappey resigns and will become the latest Conservative MP to stand down at the election
Armed forces minister James Heappey resigns and will become the latest Conservative MP to stand down at the election. Picture: alamy

By StephenRigley

James Heappey will leave his role as armed forces minister at the end of this month and stand down as an MP at the next election

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In a fresh blow to Rishi Sunak, Heappey will leave his role at the end of the month citing family reasons.

Heappey becomes the latest Conservative MP to announce they are giving up their seat. The list currently stands at 62 MPs and includes former Prime Minister Theresa May and former Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.

It is understood Heappey, who served in iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland during a decade in the army, has been frustrated by the levels of defence spending and has raised the issue with colleagues.

James Heappey is said to be unhappy at the levels of defence spending
James Heappey is said to be unhappy at the levels of defence spending. Picture: alamy

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He is due to make a final appearance at the dispatch box for defence questions a week on Monday.

In a letter to his local association, he said he had concluded that it was “time to step away from politics, prioritise my family, and pursue a different career.

“The opportunity to serve the communities within the Wells constituency for the last nine years has been the greatest honour of my life,” he wrote.

Heappey said he would continue to support Rishi Sunak as prime minister and intended to make his remaining days as an MP count.

Sources close to Heappey told The Times that his resignation had nothing to do with the state of the Ministry of Defence.It is understood that Sunak offered Heappey the option of staying in post until the election but he asked to step down sooner to focus on his constituency and future employment.

Heappey, 43, won his Somerset seat with a 9,991 majority in 2019 and, although facing boundary changes, the constituency is still considered winnable by the Conservatives.

He is regarded as highly capable, appeared regularly in media rounds and was made a minister by Boris Johnson in 2022.

Heappey had been widely tipped to become defence secretary when Ben Wallace stepped down in August 2023. The job in the end went to Grant Shapps.

His departure comes at a difficult time for the prime minister who was criticised over the decision to deny extra funding to the MoD in the budget despite increased threats and wars in Ukraine and the Middle East.

In last week's budget no new money was promised to defence, leading to condemnation across the party.

Two serving ministers broke ranks by calling for a “much greater pace” of investment in defence spending a day after the Commons’ spending watchdog warned the MoD had no credible plan to fund the military capabilities the government wants.

Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, has said defence spending will rise to 2.5 per cent of gross domestic product “as soon as economic conditions allow”, without providing details of how that would happen.