William Hague to step down as foreign secretary

William Hague has stepped down as foreign secretary, paving the way for a far-reaching cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday as David Cameron attempts to bring more women and younger faces into his team.

Mr Hague announced he was to step down as an MP at the next election and his departure from the Foreign Office will trigger the first big changes at the top of the cabinet since Mr Cameron became prime minister in 2010.

William Hague arriving at Downing Street on July 14, 2014.
Oli Scarff / Staff | Getty Images News
William Hague arriving at Downing Street on July 14, 2014.

Mr Hague made it clear to Mr Cameron that he did not want to go to Brussels as Britain's EU commissioner; instead he will play a political role as Leader of the House.

There has been speculation that George Osborne might favour a move to the Foreign Office ahead of Mr Cameron's proposed 2017 EU referendum, but government insiders said last night the chancellor would stay at the Treasury.

Theresa May, home secretary, and Philip Hammond, defence secretary, were on Monday night deemed at Westminster to be the frontrunners to succeed Mr Hague, but Downing Street refused to comment. However, government officials later played down speculation that Ms May would go to Foreign Office.

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Mr Hague will serve as Leader of the House and Mr Cameron's de facto deputy until the next election, after a cabinet career that has spanned 20 years. He said he planned to continue his successful writing career after the election.

His decision to move aside at the Foreign Office will trigger a wider shake-up and leave room for Mr Cameron to make good on his promise to promote more women and to elevate MPs from the 2010 intake to his top team.

Mr Cameron last night began a clear-out of middle-aged male ministers, in an extensive reshuffle intended to give the Conservative party a new face at the next election.

The generational change was symbolised by the retirement of Ken Clarke, whose cabinet career spanned 25 years. He left the front bench vowing to continue to fight from the backbenches to keep Britain in the EU.

While Mr Clarke was toasting his retirement with a glass of red wine and a curry at the Kennington Tandoori, Mr Cameron was delivering the bad news to a series of ministers from his office behind the Speaker's chair.

David Jones, Welsh secretary, was the first to confirm he was being removed from the cabinet while Alan Duncan, the international development secretary, said he was leaving the front bench voluntarily.

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David Willetts, the science minister who was at the heart of talks with Pfizer in its aborted takeover bid for AstraZeneca, also lost his job and announced he would step down as an MP next year.

Two ministers pursuing policies that were once at the heart of Mr Cameron's modernising drive also left the government: Nick Hurd, the "Big Society" minister, and Greg Barker, climate change minister.

Damian Green, the police minister whose office was raided by police when the Tories were in opposition, was another minister to lose his job.

Owen Paterson, environment secretary, Andrew Lansley, Leader of the House, and Bob Kerslake, head of the civil service, were also among cabinet ministers sacked last night.

Mr Cameron's decision to conduct the cull in the House of Commons spared ministers the indignity of having to walk down Downing St past the cameras to learn their fate.

By contrast, those winning promotion will walk to Number 10 to illustrate what Mr Cameron will claim is a more diverse ministerial team.

They are expected to include Nicky Morgan, Treasury minister, Esther McVey, employment minister, and Liz Truss, education minister, while other MPs elected only four years ago will be given a chance to prove themselves in government.

Read MoreBritish foreign secretary Hague to step down

Mr Clarke told the Financial Times he had decided to retire before people started to wonder how to get rid of him and before he made "a pig's ear of something". He plans to write an autobiography.

—By George Parker, Elizabeth Rigby and Jim Pickard


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