Labour MP Mike Hill has quit as an MP, triggering a by-election in a key test of the Red Wall for Labour.
The sudden announcement sets up a fresh electoral contest in Hartlepool, a seat long-held by Labour, marking the first test of Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership since taking over from Jeremy Corbyn last year.
It is the first by-election to take place in 19 months – the longest wait since the Second World War.
The last took place on August 1 2019, when the Liberal Democrats gained the constituency of Brecon & Radnorshire from the Conservatives.
“Mike Hill has resigned as Member of Parliament for Hartlepool with immediate effect,” a Labour Party spokeswoman said.
On Tuesday, Hill appeared to have deleted his Twitter account.
The 57-year-old had represented the North East of England town since 2017.
He held off a Conservative and Brexit Party challenge at the last election but saw his majority slashed by more than half to just under 3,600.
His resignation follows reports that he used taxpayers’ money to fight a staff member’s claim of unfair dismissal, sexual assault and harassment.
According to the Sunday Times, Hill claimed £2,000 on parliamentary expenses for the excess on his employment liability policy.
The newspaper said he had failed to keep his name secret in the legal proceedings.
Bookmaker Coral has made the Tories odds-on favourites to win the by-election at 1-2, with Labour at 13-8 to retain the seat that was once held by Peter Mandelson, a former cabinet minister and one of the architects of New Labour.
The bookies’ spokesman John Hill said: “Labour have won every election in Hartlepool since this seat was first contested in 1974, however, our betting suggests the Conservatives could break that stronghold in this by-election in what would be a huge blow for Keir Starmer.”