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Mark Harper, the Immigration Minister, has resigned from the government after it emerged that he had employed a cleaner who was in the country illegally

Mr Harper said he discovered last week that she did not have indefinite leave to remain in the UK and decided that his position leading the government’s immigration reforms was no longer tenable.

The MP, seen as one of the rising stars of the Conservative Party, conceded that he should have checked his cleaner’s background “more thoroughly”.

He announced his decision to quit the government in a letter to the Prime Minister, in which he apologised for any “embarrassment” he had caused.

Mr Cameron responded by praising Mr Harper and offering him the prospect of a return to the front bench “before too long”. Downing Street sources stressed that the Prime Minister believed Mr Harper had acted “incredibly honourably”.

Mr Harper has been playing a key role in piloting the government’s Immigration Bill through parliament.

In his letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Harper insisted that he had checked his cleaner’s immigration status when he first hired her in 2007 and had considered checking again since. However, he only asked Home Office officials to confirm her legal status last week.

This resulted in the disclosure on Thursday that the cleaner did not in fact have indefinite leave to remain, despite, Mr Harper said, her providing documents which stated that she did.

“Although I complied with the law at all times, I consider that as Immigration Minister, who is taking legislation through Parliament which will toughen up our immigration laws, I should hold myself to a higher standard than expected of others,” he wrote.

“I have also considered the impact on my Parliamentary colleagues, the Government and you.

“I have always believed that politics is a team game, not an individual sport. Under the circumstances, I have therefore decided that the right course is for me to return to the Backbenches. I am sorry for any embarrassment caused.”

In his reply, Mr Cameron said he “enormously appreciated” Mr Harper’s loyalty.

“It is typical of you that you should be so mindful of the wider interests of the Government and the Party in reaching the decision that you have, and I am very grateful for that,” Mr Cameron said.

“You will be greatly missed, and I hope very much that you will be able to return to service on the Frontbench before too long.”

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