Chris Heaton-Harris to step down at election in new setback for Sunak

Chris Heaton-Harris
Chris Heaton-Harris said it had been an 'honour and a privilege to serve', and thanked to his constituents in Daventry - Wiktor Szymanowicz/Anadolu

Chris Heaton-Harris, the Northern Ireland Secretary, has said he will step down at the next general election in the latest setback for Rishi Sunak.

The Conservative MP, who has been a Cabinet minister since 2022, has joined a list of more than 60 Tories to have announced that they will be leaving Westminster.

He also asked Mr Sunak if he would be able to stay on as Northern Ireland Secretary until the election.

Alister Jack, Mr Sunak’s Scotland Secretary, and Ben Wallace, the former defence secretary, have said they will be stepping down when the country goes to the polls.

Mr Heaton-Harris said it had been an “honour and a privilege to serve”, and thanked to his constituents in Daventry.

He also thanked Mr Sunak and former prime ministers Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, saying he would continue to campaign for the Conservatives as the “only party that has and can deliver for the whole of the United Kingdom”.

In his letter to Mr Sunak stating his intention to step down, Mr Heaton-Harris wrote: “I know we are not far from a general election – an election in which I will do everything I can to see you returned as Prime Minister. I would be honoured if you allowed me to continue as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland until that time.”

Mr Heaton-Harris, a Eurosceptic who was first elected in 2010, was appointed Conservative Party whip by Mr Johnson in 2022. Later that year, Ms Truss appointed him as Northern Ireland Secretary, a role he retained when Mr Sunak became Prime Minister.

At the time, the Stormont power sharing institutions had collapsed following a DUP protest against post-Brexit trading arrangements, and much of his time in Northern Ireland was spent negotiating with parties in efforts to restore the Assembly and Executive.

During that time, Mr Heaton-Harris passed a budget to keep Stormont departments working in the absence of ministers, and was also closely associated with the passing of the Government’s controversial Bill to deal with the legacy of the Northern Ireland Troubles. The Stormont Executive returned in February this year.

Gavin Robinson, the interim leader of the DUP, urged Mr Heaton-Harris to use his remaining time in post to “ensure there is faithful delivery for the people of Northern Ireland”.

Mr Robinson said: “I contacted Chris Heaton-Harris and gave him my best wishes for his future and thanked him for his efforts to make progress. I trust he will remain in post until the mandate ends as there is delivery required from the Government.

“Northern Ireland needs sustainable funding which can enable reform of public services and ensure public sector workers are properly paid for their work.”