Howard forced to reshuffle his team after pro-European quits

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Michael Howard suffered his first Shadow Cabinet resignation last night as the fervent pro-European David Curry left for "family reasons".

His surprise departure after just four months as shadow secretary for local and devolved government forced the Tory leader to carry out a reshuffle of several posts. In a letter to Mr Howard, Mr Curry said: "This is entirely for family reasons: there is no political disagreement between us." Promising his continuing support for the leadership, the long-serving MP for Skipton and Ripon said he had enjoyed playing his part in the party's recovery.

It was the second time the former local government minister had walked out of the Shadow Cabinet, but this time apparently without the acrimony of his departure from William Hague's team when the two men clashed over European policy. Mr Curry is a strong supporter of closer European ties, including membership of the single European currency.

He will be replaced by Caroline Spelman, who was an environment spokesman and is regarded as one of the Tories' rising stars. Ms Spelman said: "This is a hugely important policy area where we have many opportunities to make our case and expose the failings of a discredited government."

Richard Ottaway has taken over Ms Spelman's role and Eleanor Laing has been made shadow minister for women.

In other changes, Desmond Swayne moved from the defence team to become number two to the shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland and David Cameron gave up his role as a deputy party chairman and joins the local and devolved government team.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown moved from the local and devolved government team to rejoin the whips' office. Mark Field left the whips' office to join the local government team as shadow minister for London. David Ruffley joined the whips' office, Andrew Rosindell became party vice-chairman, and Angela Watkinson swapped the whips' office for the health and education team.