Mr Garel-Jones, 51, said in an exchange of letters with the Prime Minister that he wanted to spend more time with his family, but would stay until the Maastricht Bill completed its Commons passage.
That delay is almost certain to put off the next full-scale reshuffle until the summer. But anti-Maastricht Tory MPs were already celebrating. A jubilant one said: 'It's the best Christmas present I could have had.'
Mr Garel-Jones became the bete noire of the Thatcherite right as a whip, accused of promoting 'wets' into the Government and helping to bring down Margaret Thatcher. He compounded the animosity by being an architect for the Maastricht treaty. Last night Labour said he would be a lame-duck minister for the Bill's committee stage.
Mr Garel-Jones has always made clear to friends that his private life was more important than ministerial ambition. His family has lost an estimated pounds 700,000 in the Lloyd's insurance market over recent years, so there is bound to be speculation that there is a financial problem. But the family has a number of small Spanish business interests - enough to keep it comfortable.
He revelled in the political fray, whether in the whips' office, where he began his ministerial career, the Tory leadership election or the subsequent battles over the Maastricht treaty. He decided before the last election that he would give up his ministerial post and told his family he would honour that commitment at the end of last year.
However, Mr Garel-Jones subsequently agreed to stay at the Foreign Office until the election in April, after which John Major enticed him to remain and help during the critical six months of Britain's European Community presidency.
That role having been completed, Mr Garel-Jones, MP for Watford, said yesterday that it was time to cut loose. 'I want to be a backbencher again,' he said. 'I really do enjoy constituency work.'
He hopes to have more time, not only with his family, but to build up his collection of New Figurative Spanish art, and of Spanish, French and British literature.
His resignation comes at a difficult time for Mr Major, after the departure of David Mellor from the Government. Mr Garel-Jones was closer to Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, but Mr Major warmly praised him and said in his letter: 'Norman joins me in sending you and Catali our love and good wishes for the future.'
Right-wing glee, page 2Reuse content