MARIA Miller has resigned as Culture Secretary, telling David Cameron the row over her expenses had “become a distraction from the vital work this Government is doing”.
Prime Minister David Cameron said he was “sad” at the circumstances of her departure and hoped she could make a return “in due course” but was accepting her resignation.
It follows days of mounting public and political pressure on the MP to quit and signs she was losing support among Tory colleagues despite Mr Cameron’s backing.
In her resignation letter, the Basingstoke MP told Mr Cameron she was “very grateful” for his personal support.
“But it has become clear to me that the present situation has become a distraction from the vital work this Government is doing to turn our country around,” she added.
She defended her work on press regulation - which allies have suggested has resulted in a media “witch hunt” against her.
“Of course, implementing the recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson on the future of media regulation, following the phone hacking scandals, would always be controversial for the press,” she wrote.
“Working together with you, I believe we struck the right balance between protecting the freedom of the press and ensuring fairness, particularly for victims of press intrusion, to have a clear right of redress.”
Mr Cameron told her it was “ important to be clear that the Committee on Standards cleared you of the unfounded allegations made against you, a point which has been lost in much of the comment in recent days”.
The standards committee ordered her to repay £5,800 in overclaimed mortgage interest and say sorry on the floor of the House - an apology which has been widely criticised for its tone and brevity.
“As you leave the Government, you should be proud of your service on the Frontbench and in Opposition,” Mr Cameron said - including steering through gay marriage and press regulation.
“I am personally very grateful for the support you have always given me, and which I am sure that you will continue to give.
“I hope that you will be able to return to serving the Government on the Frontbench in due course, and am only sad that you are leaving the Government in these circumstances.”
Labour MP John Mann, who made the allegations against Mrs Miller which triggered the standards investigation, said: “About time too.”
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “Maria Miller should have resigned immediately and when she didn’t resign, Mr Cameron should have shown a bit of leadership and sacked her.”
He said the case had shown the present system - which saw a cross-party committee of MPs dramatically reduce the sum an independent watchdog said Mrs Miller should repay - was “dead and buried”.
“I would like to see David Cameron announce today at Prime Minister’s Questions that that system is going to go immediately and there will be no more self-regulation of MPs by MPs.”
A Tory local councillor in Mrs Miller’s Basingstoke constituency said he was “disappointed that it has come to this but on the other hand we have achieved some sort of closure”.
Sven Godesen, who was among those who had called on her to repay the originally-recommended £45,000 or quit, said he hoped she would stay on as MP for the Hampshire town.
“She was and is a good constituency MP and we will all be very happy in 2015 to work to see that she does get re-elected.”