Robert Halfon

Robert Henry Halfon (/ˈhælfɒn/; born 22 March 1969) is a British Conservative Party politician serving as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Harlow since 2010. He was re-elected in 2015,[2] 2017, and 2019.

Robert Halfon

Halfon in 2017
Chair of the Education Select Committee
Assumed office
12 July 2017
Preceded byNeil Carmichael
Minister of State for Skills
In office
17 July 2016  12 June 2017
Prime MinisterTheresa May
Preceded byNick Boles
Succeeded byAnne Milton
Minister without Portfolio
In office
11 May 2015  17 July 2016
Prime MinisterDavid Cameron
Preceded byGrant Shapps
Succeeded byBrandon Lewis (2018)
Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party
In office
11 May 2015  17 July 2016
LeaderDavid Cameron
Preceded bySarah Newton
Succeeded byAnthea McIntyre
Member of Parliament
for Harlow
Assumed office
6 May 2010
Preceded byBill Rammell
Majority14,063 (32.5%)
Personal details
Robert Henry Halfon

(1969-03-22) 22 March 1969 (age 52)
Westminster, London, England[1]
Political partyConservative
Domestic partnerVanda Colombo
Alma materUniversity of Exeter
WebsiteOfficial website

Halfon was formerly a professional researcher for Conservative MPs, including as Chief of Staff to Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Oliver Letwin. He was also the political director of Conservative Friends of Israel. He was elected to the British House of Commons for Harlow at the 2010 general election.

Halfon attended Prime Minister David Cameron's Cabinet from May 2015 and July 2016 as Minister without portfolio and Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party.[3][4] He served in Prime Minister Theresa May's government as Minister of State for Skills at the Department for Education from July 2016 to June 2017.[5] After returning to the backbenches, Halfon has chaired the House of Commons Education Select Committee since July 2017.[6]

Early life and career

Halfon was born on 22 March 1969 in Westminster into a British Jewish family living in Hampstead, London.[7][8] Halfon's father, Clement, is an Orthodox Sephardic Jew who emigrated from Libya and now lives in Israel. His grandfather, Renato Halfon, was an Italian Jewish clothing manufacturer, living in Libya until forced to leave in 1968, after which he joined his son who had already moved to England. Halfon's mother, Jennifer, is Ashkenazi.[9]

Halfon was born with a moderate version of spastic diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy, and underwent several major operations as a child, causing osteoarthritis in his early thirties.[10]

He was educated at Highgate School, an independent school in London, and the University of Exeter, where he graduated BA in Politics and MA in Russian and Eastern European politics. With David Burrowes, Sajid Javid, and Tim Montgomerie, he was a leading member of Exeter University Conservative Association, turning Conservative Future from social to political activities.[8] In the case of Halfon v United Kingdom (1991), he took the issue of compulsory membership of the National Union of Students to the European Court of Human Rights, which decided his application was manifestly ill-founded.[10][11]

After Exeter, Halfon worked for a time selling hotel memberships at an upmarket London hotel, before he got a job as a part-time researcher for the then Conservative MP for Blackpool North, Harold Elletson, and subsequently worked for other Conservative MPs, including Michael Fabricant.[10] He was Chief of Staff for senior Conservative MP Oliver Letwin before becoming political director for Conservative Friends of Israel. He also spent some time working for a leading London-based Public Affairs company, Market Access.

Parliamentary career

Halfon unsuccessfully contested the seat of Harlow for the Conservative party at the 2001 general election and 2005 general elections, losing by just 97 votes on the second occasion.[12]

His third run for Harlow was successful and after the 2010 general election, he was elected to the executive of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs.[13] He delivered his maiden speech in the House on 2 June 2010.[14] He was re-elected at the 2015 general election and 2017 general election.

On 18 July 2014 he was chosen by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, to be his Parliamentary Private Secretary.[15]

In 2014, Halfon was challenged in Parliament over money paid to his constituency office by a close associate of a Ukrainian magnate, Dmitry Firtash, recently arrested amid allegations of bribery. Firtash's close associate Robert Shetler-Jones, a Briton who was the former CEO of the Ukrainian's business empire Group and was currently deputy chairman of the group's supervisory council had donated £35,000 to Halfon's constituency office. Halfon rejected the accusations of connections with Firtash and said that he had fully declared the money in the Register of Members' Interests.[16]

In 2015, Halfon admitted an affair with a party activist with whom he had been working, after he was warned that a Conservative aide was trying to blackmail him over the relationship. Halfon alleged that the controversial former Conservative Parliamentary candidate Mark Clarke, dubbed the "Tatler Tory", was attempting to blackmail him to further Clarke's advancement within the Party.[17][18] Halfon was further criticised after it was reported by The Guardian newspaper that he had claimed over £30,000 in expenses to illicitly meet the woman with whom he was having the affair, when staying at the East India Club in London. Halfon's spokeswoman responded that the woman with whom Halfon had an affair had not actually stayed at the club for the whole of the nights in question. Halfon was further criticised, after having previously voted to cut legal aid, for having his legal bills totalling £6,043 paid by Conservative-supporting law firms.[19]

Between May 2015 and July 2016 Halfon served as Minister without Portfolio (attending Cabinet) and Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party. From July 2016 he was Minister of State at the Department for Education, before being dismissed on 12 June 2017 by the Prime Minister Theresa May.[citation needed]

In January 2017, while dining with Halfon's former assistant, Maria Strizzolo,[20] former Israeli Embassy staffer Shai Masot was recorded as saying that he should like a government minister, Alan Duncan, to be "taken down".[21][22]

In the House of Commons he sits on the Liaison Committee (Commons) and Education Committee and has previously sat on the Public Administration Select Committee.[23]

In October 2020, Halfon was one of five Conservative MPs who broke the whip to vote for a Labour opposition day motion to extend the provision of free school meals during school holidays until Easter 2021.[24]



Halfon is a supporter of apprenticeships, and campaigned for a new university technical college to be built in Harlow, which was to open in September 2014.[25] He set up the Parliamentary Academy, which encourages MPs to employ apprentices in Parliament.[26] He had the first MP's apprentice in the House of Commons, and as of 2013 was on his third apprentice, who came from Harlow College.[27] For his work on apprenticeships, Robert Halfon was also named Avanta's Politician of the Year in 2013.[28]

Cost of living

After becoming an MP, Halfon founded the Petrol Promise campaign, an online website and petition calling for lower fuel tax and an official inquiry into the oil market due to the suspected manipulation of petrol prices.[29] He is a supporter of the FairFuelUK[30] pressure group and has raised the issue of cheaper petrol in Parliament. He also presented a petition calling for an inquiry into price-fixing at the Office of Fair Trading signed by 30,000 motorists in 2013.[31] This led to Chancellor George Osborne calling him a "champion of the people he represents".[32] He won The Spectator's Campaigner of the Year Award in 2013 for his work fighting to keep petrol duty low.[33]

Halfon has campaigned against privatised utility companies making 'excessive profits'. In 2013, he published a study of water companies in the Eastern region examining their profits, and called for an inquiry.[34] He has called for a windfall tax to be imposed on energy companies who are found to be unnecessarily putting up prices to customers.[35]

Halfon has also campaigned for reducing the tax rate on low paid workers, arguing in 2013 that a near living wage could be achieved if the Government reintroduced the 10p band of income tax or increased the National Insurance threshold, citing this as an alternative to the living wage which he said could damage small, local businesses.[36]

Israel and Judaism

Halfon has said that one of the three things that motivate him in politics is "unashamed support for the State of Israel, as the only real democracy and progressive force in the Middle East".[37] He says: "I have always been very supportive of Israel. I have been to Israel many times for work and family, especially now that my father, who has become more Orthodox, lives in Jerusalem. I talk a lot about Israel in the House of Commons."[9]

He attempted to get Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND), formerly iENGAGE, banned from the House of Commons.[9]

He has said that it was the experiences of his Libyan refugee Jewish grandfather Renato Halfon that prompted him to campaign against Libyan funding of British universities. Halfon is also concerned about donations from Muslim countries to Oxford University, Saudi Arabian donations to Cambridge, and Edinburgh and Durham universities' links with Iran.[9]

On 19 July 2010 he hosted the launch of the Friends of Israel Initiative at the House of Commons.[38][39]

According to Doreen Wachmann of the Jewish Telegraph, of Halfon, "Doughty Labour MP Louise Ellman is never scared to openly proclaim her Jewish identity and fight for Israel and against Islamic extremism at every Parliamentary opportunity. And now the Conservative Party has finally found its counterpart to her."[9]

Halfon is a Vice President of the Jewish Leadership Council.[40] In April 2020, the Board of Deputies described him as "surprisingly ignorant...disingenuous and outright false,[41] while its president, Marie van der Zyl, questioned his courage and integrity.[42]

LGBT rights

Halfon voted against the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which permitted same-sex couples to marry, and much of the secondary legislation implementing the Act.[43] He later apologised for this, saying: "I regret it and I would vote for equal marriage if it came before Parliament now".[44]

Halfon voted to extend same-sex marriage to residents of Northern Ireland on 9 July 2019.[45][46]

Trade unions

Halfon is a member of the Prospect trade union[47] and a campaigner for Conservative supporters to become more involved in trade unions.[48][49] In 2012, he published a pamphlet through the thinktank Demos called Stop the Union Bashing: Why Conservatives Should Embrace the Trade Union Movement, which relayed the history of trade unionism in the Conservative Party, and called for these links to be revived.[50] He is honorary president of Conservative Workers & Trade Unionists, an affiliated group of the Conservative Party.

Welsh Parliamentary speech

Halfon, who has never learnt Welsh, responded in the language to a Parliamentary question regarding the steps being taken by the Government Digital Service to ensure services delivered in Wales are provided bilingually.[51]

Other activities

Halfon has signed several early day motions in support of National Health Service funding for homeopathy sponsored by Conservative MP David Tredinnick.[52]

Halfon has been critical of donations received by UK universities from abroad, in particular the London School of Economics and Political Science.[53]

In July 2018, following the deaths of two children while playing on bouncy castles, Halfon called for an "urgent investigation" into the regulation of the inflatables. He argued that 'There should be a temporary ban on bouncy castles in public areas until we can ensure they are safe'. Earlier, in 2016, a seven-year-old girl died after a bouncy castle broke free from its moorings in Halfon's constituency of Harlow.[54]

Personal life

Halfon's partner, Vanda Colombo, is Brazilian and has converted to Judaism.[9]

From 2010 to 2014, Halfon had an affair with the then-chair of Conservative Future, Alexandra Paterson.[55][56]


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