AFTER more than 31 years in Parliament, Newport West MP Paul Flynn has announced he will stand down “at the earliest possible opportunity” due to failing health.

The 83-year-old was first elected in 1987 and successfully defended his seat in seven subsequent elections, most recently last June, when he won a comfortable 52.2 per cent of the vote.

But the outspoken Labour MP, who has been a regular highlight of Parliamentary debates for the past three decades for his colourful turn of phrase, has been conspicuous by his absence in Westminster in recent months. Even his once-prolific Twitter account and blog have been largely silent.

And, speaking to the Argus, Mr Flynn said his rheumatoid arthritis - which he has suffered with from a young age - had escalated to the point it had become extremely difficult to do his job fully, and he had decided to stand down to make way for someone who would be able to fully carry out the duties of an MP.

“My intention is to stand down at the first opportunity,” he said.

“It is difficult at the moment because we don’t know if the government is going to continue. I don’t think they can go beyond December, really.

“I will be standing down at the next election, whether that’s months or years away.”

He added: “If the opportunity arises over the next few months I’ll go then.

“I’m not going for another job or anything. It’s a great shame, and I am sorry I can’t give the 100 per cent that I’ve given over the past 31 years.”

Although he has been present in Parliament only for key votes in recent months, Mr Flynn added his constituency work was continuing as normal with the help of his staff and other Gwent MPs.

“I am confined to my bed at the moment,” he said.

“But my staff are working away like steam, and I am looking at all correspondence and writing letters.

“The other MPs are taking on some of the case work and raising things in Parliament.

“So it’s all being covered.”

He particularly thanked Newport East MP Jessica Morden for her work to support him, calling her "magnificent".

In recent years Mr Flynn has been a prominent figure in the campaign to legalise cannabis for medical use in the UK. And a Private Member’s Bill calling for this to become law presented by the Labour MP is on the Parliamentary agenda this Friday.

But there may not be a Newport West Parliamentary seat at all for much longer.

Although Newport is currently represented by two MPs, with Jessica Morden, also Labour, currently representing Newport East, under proposals by the UK Government to cut the overall number of MPs by 50 to 600 the two constituencies could be merged.

Mr Flynn has previously objected to the plans, and said he continued to hope they would be scrapped.

“I would to see Newport represented by two MPs for as long as possible,” he said.

“Whether that will happen with the government reforms I don’t know.”

Reflecting on his decision, he added: “I do regret this.

"Unfortunately there is no other choice. I was happy to carry on - I thought I’d be able to do it for the full three years.

“But unfortunately this is more severe than anything I’ve ever dealt with.

“I greatly regret that.”

READ MOREPaul Flynn: A look at a career in politics