William Hague quits as British foreign secretary in deep Cabinet reshuffle

British Foreign Secretary William Hague speaks during a news conference in Tbilisi in this May 8, 2014 file photo. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
British Foreign Secretary William Hague speaks during a news conference in Tbilisi in this May 8, 2014 file photo. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - Britain's William Hague announced his surprise resignation as foreign secretary on Monday, in a deep shake-up of the Conservative-led government 10 months from a general election.

"I am standing down as Foreign Secretary after four years to serve as Leader of the House of Commons," Hague, a former leader of the Conservative Party, wrote on Twitter, saying he would stand down as a member of parliament at the May 2015 election.

The reshuffle, much wider than expected, ousted roughly a dozen from the cabinet and drew the battle lines for the next year's general election, purging the government of several veterans and reflecting a shift to the right in the Conservative Party.

The move is expected to make way for younger politicians and more women, chosen to reflect the priorities of Prime Minister David Cameron's re-election campaign as he responds to the ascent of the anti-EU UK Independence Party.

Conservative veteran Kenneth Clarke, whose vocal support of Britain's membership of the European Union had made him increasingly at odds with many in the party, announced his resignation as minister without portfolio.

National broadcaster BBC reported that Hague could be replaced by current Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, who has said he would vote for Britain to leave the EU unless a better membership deal is agreed, in a referendum Cameron has promised for 2017 if he is re-elected.

Energy and Climate Change Minister Gregory Barker, a modernising figure associated with Cameron's promise to run the "greenest government ever" when he took office in 2010, also resigned in a reflection of a turn to the right. Barker will also stand down as an MP next year.

Other Conservatives to have lost their cabinet jobs were universities minister David Willetts, international development minister Alan Duncan, minister for the Middle East Hugh Robertson, leader of the House of Commons George Young and Northern Ireland Minister Andrew Robathan, according to the prime minister's office.

The shake-up was described as a "bloodbath" on the front page of Britain's Daily Mirror, and as a "cull of the men in suits" by The Independent.

"I'm really worried that this reshuffle will leave the PM short of middle-aged white men in Govt. I'm selflessly ready Dave!" Conservative MP Alistair Burt wrote on Twitter.

Cameron said he wanted to pay an "enormous tribute" to Hague, saying he would remain his "de facto political deputy" and play a key role in campaigning ahead of the election.

Hague's position as leader of the House of Commons, which he will hold until the next election, is a ministerial post which involves organising the government's business in the lower house and working closely with the chief whip.

A member of parliament for 26 years, Hague's four years as foreign secretary saw the Arab Spring, civil war in Syria, Russian incursions into Ukraine and Britain grow increasingly cool towards its membership of the European Union.

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