Foreign Office churn continues as another minister quits

A second minister has resigned from the Foreign Office in as many weeks, forcing David Cameron to make yet more changes to his government.

Mark Simmonds has quit his job as Africa minister one week after former Tory party chair Sayeeda Warsi left the government over its position on Israel's approach to the Gaza Strip.

Simmonds made clear he was not resigning over the Middle East. He is standing down at the next general election and would have left the government at Cameron's recent reshuffle, were it not for his enthusiasm to chair United Nations meetings on the Democratic Republic of Congo.

No 10 explained this morning that Cameron had asked all ministers intending to leave parliament in 2015 to step aside in the reshuffle.

But Labour questioned the logic, given that former foreign secretary William Hague remains in the Cabinet as first secretary of state.

"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," Simmonds told the prime minister in his resignation letter.

"At this stage, I need to focus on providing for my family."

Simmonds was an early supporter of Cameron, who called him a "good friend" in his reply.

He survived the October 2013 reshuffle despite failing to vote in the government defeat on military action against Syria in August, having been busy "discussing the situation in Rwanda" with international development secretary Justine Greening.

Ukip's strong performance in his Boston and Skegness seat may also have been a factor in his decision not to stand again, however. Nigel Farage's party took 52% of the vote in the borough of Boston in this year's European elections.

While he has been at pains to make clear his resignation is not the result of the government's policies, Simmonds' departure is prompting speculation that Cameron's approach to the Middle East could have been a factor.

Last week Warsi used her resignation letter to suggest that there is significant disquiet with the approach to the conflict being taken by No 10 and by new foreign secretary Philip Hammond.

She wrote there is "great unease across the Foreign Office amongst both Ministers and senior officials, in the way recent decisions are being made".

Simmonds' exit means the Foreign Office faces yet another change in its ministerial team, after William Hague left in the reshuffle to become leader of the Commons and Warsi resigned dramatically last week.

James Duddridge takes over Simmonds' place, after the Conservatives' former chief whip in the Lords, Baroness Anelay of St Johns, replaced Warsi.

Shadow Foreign Office minister John Spellar said: “At a time when the FCO should be focused both on the crisis in Iraq and the situation in Gaza following the recent appalling violence there, David Cameron’s government instead risks looking increasingly rudderless, and characterised by confusion.

"Even if Mark Simmonds’ resignation is for understandable personal reasons, the prime minister should have announced his replacement at the time of the reshuffle to allow an orderly handover."