(Photo: Jessica Taylor)
Mr Speaker, I’m grateful for your permission to make this statement.
Yesterday we began our day together.
You, I, my RHF the Prime Minister, and colleagues from across this House, broke bread together at the Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast.
And listened to the words of Reverend Les Issac.
Who spoke about the responsibility that comes with leadership -
The responsibility to serve the interests of others above your own
And to seek the common good.
Of your Party…
And above all your country.
Colleagues will be forgiven for sharing my sense of deja vu.
Despite what it may seem, I have never been one of life’s quitters.
I didn’t quit when I was told that boys like me didn’t do maths.
I didn’t quit when old school bankers said I didn’t have the right school ties.
I didn’t quit when people in my community told me I couldn’t marry the love of my life.
I care deeply about public service, and giving back to the country that has given me so much.
That is why when I got that call from the Prime Minister to come back into Government, just over one year ago, I didn’t hesitate.
It was a critical time for our country.
Tough decisions needed to be made on coming out of lockdown…
… and in supporting a National Health Service and care sector under unprecedented strain.
It has been an absolute privilege to have been trusted with these responsibilities, and I can only hope that my best has been good enough.
It has, undoubtedly, been my toughest role so far.
The gravity of Home Office decisions, the scale of Treasury decisions…
… but nothing matters more than the health of our people - especially during, and in the wake of, a pandemic.
So I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all of those working in the health and care sector…
… as well as those I worked closely with in DHSC and the NHS.
There is so much I had planned for the long-term reform of our health and care systems.
It is a wrench to leave that important work behind.
When I last gave a Personal Statement from this seat,
I spoke about the importance of institutions and conventions.
Today is about the importance of integrity.
… don’t worry, I don’t intend to make a series out of this!
Institutions and integrity are both central pillars that underpin our great democracy.
It doesn’t matter what your political perspectives are coming into this House.
I believe we are all motivated by the national interest.
And that the public expects all of us to maintain honesty and integrity in what we do.
This is not an abstract matter.
We’ve seen in great democracies what happens when divisions are entrenched, not bridged.
We cannot allow that to happen here - we must bring the country together as One Nation.
Effective governance inevitably requires loyalty and collective responsibility.
I’m instinctively a team player, and I have been completely focused on governing effectively over the last year.
But treading the tightrope between loyalty and integrity has become impossible in recent months.
And Mr Speaker, I will never risk losing my integrity.
I also believe a team is only as good as its team captain, and that a captain is as good as his or her team.
Loyalty must go both ways.
The events of recent months have made it increasingly difficult to be in that team.
It’s not fair on my Ministerial colleagues to go out every morning defending lines that don’t stand up, or don’t hold up.
It’s not fair on my parliamentary colleagues who bear the brunt of constituents’ dismay in their inboxes, and at the doorsteps in recent elections.
And it’s not fair on Conservative members and voters who rightly expect better standards from the Party they have supported.
When the first stories of parties in Downing Street emerged late last year…
… I was assured at the most senior level of my RHF’s then team that “there had been no parties in Downing Street and no rules were broken”.
So I gave the benefit of the doubt, and I went out on those media rounds to say that I’d had those assurances.
Then we had more and more stories.
The Sue Gray report.
A new Downing Street team.
I continued to give the benefit of the doubt.
And now this week again we have had reason to question the truth and integrity of what we have been told.
At some point we have to conclude that enough is enough.
I believe that point is now.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s public acknowledgement last night that matters could have been handled better in who he appointed, and what was said about what he knew when.
And I appreciated his kind words and humble spirit when I went to see him yesterday, and also in his letter to me.
But I fear that the reset button can only work so many times.
There’s only so many times you can turn the machine off and on again before you realise there is something fundamentally wrong.
Last month I gave the benefit of the doubt one last time.
But I have concluded that the problem starts at the top;
that it is not going to change;
and that those of us in a position to do so have a responsibility to make a change.
I wish my colleagues well who have decided to remain in this Cabinet.
They will all have their own reasons.
But it is a choice.
I know just how difficult this choice is.
But let’s be clear.
Not doing something is an active decision.
I am deeply concerned about how the next generation will see the Conservative Party, on our current course.
Our reputation, after twelve years in government, depends on regaining people’s trust.
This is not just a personal matter.
The philosophy and perception of Conservatives depends on it.
It is central to the Conservative ideal that we believe in decency, personal responsibility, and social justice enabled by conventions and the rule of law.
The Conservative mission to extend freedom, prosperity and opportunity to all is at risk if we cannot uphold that ideal.
And Mr Speaker,
The Conservative Party is not the only great institution in need of urgent repair.
Like everyone in this House, I have been dismayed by the drip-drip of stories of harassment and worse by members of this House.
So I am also concerned about how the next generation will see this House, and the health of our democracy.
In recent years, trust in our roles has been undermined through a series of scandals.
But the one thing we can control is our own values and behaviours.
It is incumbent on all of us to set high standards for ourselves, and to take action when they are not met by others.
I’m grateful for the messages of support that I’ve had from many members of this House and beyond.
I got into politics to do something, not to be somebody.
So it is hard in one way, but not in another.
Being a good father, husband, son and citizen is good enough for me.
And if I can continue to contribute to public life and my Party from the backbenches,
it will be a privilege to do so.