Africa minister Mark Simmonds resigns
Early supporter of David Cameron leaves Foreign Office and will step down as MP, but not over Gaza, says No 10.
Mark Simmonds, the Africa minister, has resigned from the Foreign Office a week after Baroness Warsi quit the cabinet.
Downing Street said the resignation of Simmonds, who will also stand down as MP for Boston and Skegness at next year’s general election, was unrelated to the departure of Warsi which was caused by the UK’s handling of the Gaza crisis.
Simmonds had agreed to resign at the time of last month’s reshuffle after deciding not to contest his Boston and Skegness seat at next year’s general election. But he was allowed to stay on to chair a meeting of the UN security council on the Democratic Republic of the Congo last week. The UK assumed the presidency of the security council on 1 August.
Simmonds, an early Cameron supporter in the 2005 Tory leadership contest after they were elected at the same time in 2001, blamed the lack of support for families for his decision to stand down as an MP next year. In a statement to his constituents, he said: “Despite the enjoyment and personal fulfilment I have found in this role, the lack of support available to MPs with families outside of London and the sacrifice to my family life, has become intolerable.”
The former minister is the latest Tory MP to announce stepping down in seats heavily targeted by Ukip. Laura Sandys is standing down in Thanet South, which is expected to be contested by the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage.
Gawain Towler, a leading Farage ally tweeted after Simmonds’s announcement: “Mark Simmonds going, nothing to do with the impact of Ukip in his constituency.”
The prime minister praised Simmonds. But relations became strained when Simmonds missed a key vote on Syria during last year’s recall of parliament because he was holding a meeting with Justine Greening, the international development secretary.
Simmonds is replaced by the highly eurosceptic former whip James Duddridge, who said last year that Britain should tell the EU to “sod off” rather than pay benefits to Romanians and Bulgarians. The appointment of Duddridge, who was sacked as a whip in 2012, showed how the prime minister is creating a harder Eurosceptic edge as he seeks to confront Ukip.
In another move, the former leader of the Tories in the Welsh assembly, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, was appointed as a whip. He replaced Lord Bates who was appointed as a home office minister.