Mr Howard, 57, the most senior survivor of the John Major government, has told William Hague that he will step down from the Shadow Cabinet at the next reshuffle.
The MP for Folkestone said last night that his 14 consecutive years of service on the front bench, and as Home Secretary from 1993 to 1997, was "probably long enough for anyone".
Mr Howard stressed that he wanted the freedom of the back benches to be able to speak on a wider range of issues than foreign affairs. "I intend to continue to be an active MP and support William Hague from the back benches. But I no longer want to be in the Shadow Cabinet," he said. He will contest the next election.
Mr Howard's decision follows speculation that he and other members of the Tory "old guard" were to be axed by Mr Hague. Mr Howard, John Redwood, Norman Fowler and Gillian Shephard were all said to be in line for a clear out, though Mr Hague denied the reports. However, the Tory leader has made clear that he wants a younger team who do not remind the voters of the last government.
Mr Howard was described memorably by Ann Widdecombe, his former colleague at the Home Office, as having "something of the night" about him. After the Labour landslide in 1997, he made a bid for the Tory leadership but came bottom of the first round ballot, not helped by Ms Widdecombe's remark.
As Home Secretary that Mr Howard made his presence most felt. With a personal commitment to challenge the liberal orthodoxy about crime and punishment he claimed that "prison works".
Howard's Way: A Liberal's Nightmare
Refused to pursue pardon requests from the family of Derek Bentley, the teenager accused of shouting "Let Him Have It" when an accomplice shot dead a policeman
Presided over the Whitemoor prisons fiasco, when an escape led to the resignation of Derek Lewis, head of the Prison Service
Repeatedly found by High Courts to have acted illegally in pursuing deportations against asylum seekers
Refused to open a new inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence murder, despite pleas from his parents and evidence showing that police had behaved improperlyReuse content