Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Second Bombshell As Hurd Bows Out

LONDON -- Veteran Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, a key pro-European campaigner, said Friday he would retire in the next cabinet reshuffle, giving a new twist to a power struggle the day after Prime Minister John Major's bold political gamble of quitting as Conservative party leader.

Hurd's decision was interpreted as a supreme act of loyalty, giving Major, if he survives a leadership crisis, more scope to resolve Conservative Party splits in a reshuffled team.

Major is battling to retain leadership in a civil war dividing his party between pro- and anti- factions over European integration. The impending retirement of his right-hand man in the battle over Europe left Major's future hanging in the balance.

Major, unpopular in opinion polls and a target of increasing attacks within the party, sparked a leadership contest Thursday , challenging his opponents to "put up or shut up". But as rumors swirled about a possible challenger to Major, Hurd delivered the second bombshell to British politics in 24 hours when he announced he was retiring after almost six years as foreign secretary.

Hurd's departure clears the way for a radical cabinet reorganization if Major -- who remains prime minister -- wins the leadership ballot July 4. In a statement, Hurd said he would retire at the next cabinet reshuffle but still backed Major.

"I remain a staunch supporter of the Prime Minister, and have already made clear that I will support him enthusiastically in the election he announced yesterday," Hurd said. "I have no doubt that he will be re-elected. I will then continue to back him in whatever way I can from outside government."

A keen pro-European, Hurd, 65, has been a key target of the bitter whispering campaign by anti-European Conservative members of parliament. Their opposition to Major has split asunder the party that has governed Britain for an unbroken 16 years.

A novel writer in his spare time, Hurd is also known to have been upset by a recent bad accident to his younger brother and wanted to spend more time with his young family.

Initial speculation on Hurd's replacement centered on Defense Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, who has been adopting a more skeptical line on Europe.

But as the news about Hurd, believed to be Europe's longest serving foreign minister, reverberated through the corridors of the House of Commons, many members of parliament were weighing up the chances of a challenge to Major.

Major's allies were confident that Thursday's breathtaking announcement had pulled the rug from under his opponents. But, even if a challenge were mounted, Major and his allies believe he will win under the complicated balloting system employed by the ruling party.

The man most mentioned as a rival, former finance minister Norman Lamont, refused to rule out a challenge. But Cabinet ministers, including Michael Heseltine and Michael Portillo, both tipped as possible successors, came out strongly in support of Major.

If Major fails to crush opposition in the first round, other candidates could stand in a second ballot and cabinet ministers now supporting him could become his most dangerous foes.