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Duncan Smith: ‘I quit because government losing the message’

Iain Duncan SmithIain Duncan Smith said today he resigned as Work and Pensions Secretary because the government was “losing the message” about representing “all people, all of the time”.

He criticised the “peculiar” way that ministers were ordered on Friday morning to defend the reforms to disability allowances and by Friday evening they were “kicked into the long grass”.

Mr Duncan Smith, speaking on the Andrew Marr show on BBC Television, said he wanted the government to get back to being a One Nation party.

He dismissed Pensions minister Baroness Ros Altmann’s claims that her former boss resigned because of the EU rather than the cuts to disability allowances. Ms Altmann claimed he was “difficult to work with” and that he was using the disability row as a reason to resign.

But Mr Duncan Smith said he had considered resigning last year.

“It is nothing do with Europe at all,” he said. “It is painful to resign.

“I think we are drifting into dividing society. As far as I am concerned the risk is there.”

He said his resignation was not personal and that he was not personally ambitious. He did not care if he did not get back into government.

Mr Duncan Smith quit on Friday night over “a compromise too far” following Chancellor George Osborne’s Budget reforms which took £1.2 billion a year from Personal Independence Payments.

The row threatens to undermine the Prime Minister David Cameron’s authority.

In a letter to Mr Duncan Smith on Friday night, he said he was “puzzled and disappointed” by the decision of his former Cabinet colleague who was replaced by Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb.

Mr Cameron insisted the former minister had been a signatory to the Cabinet’s planned reforms to disability allowances.

He also confirmed that the cuts to PIPs were being dropped after a furious backlash from Tory MPs.

In his letter to Mr Duncan Smith – a former Tory party leader – he said: “Together we designed the Personal Independence Payments to support the most vulnerable and to give disabled people more independence.  We all agreed that the increased resources being spent on disabled people should be properly managed and focused on those who need it most.

“That is why we collectively agreed – you, No 10 and the Treasury – proposals which you and your department then announced a week ago.  Today we agreed not to proceed with the policies in their current form and instead to work together to get these policies right over the coming months.

“In the light of this, I am puzzled and disappointed that you have chosen to resign.”

Mr Iain Duncan Smith, quit amid growing opposition among backbenchers.

In his letter to the Prime Minister, he said: “I have for some time and rather reluctantly come to believe that the latest changes to benefits to the disabled and the context in which they’ve been made are a compromise too far.”

“While they are defensible in narrow terms, given the continuing deficit, they are not defensible in the way they were placed within a Budget that benefits higher earning taxpayers. They should instead have been part of a wider process to engage others in finding the best way to better focus resources on those most in need.

“I am unable to watch passively while certain policies are enacted in order to meet the fiscal self-imposed restraints that I believe are more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest.”

In a comment deemed to be aimed at Chancellor George Osborne, he said: “I hope as the Government goes forward you can look again, however, at the balance of the cuts you have insisted upon and wonder if enough has been done to ensure ‘we are all in this together’.”

Political commentators said this final quip would undermine a central plank of the Conservative government’s claim to be working for all of the people of Britain and, whether or not it involves Europe, will further divide the Tory party ahead of the EU referendum in June.

It will also blow a hole in Mr Osborne’s bid to succeed Mr Cameron at Number 10, whose management of the economy and the public finances are now being questioned.

In the short term it leaves him having to find £4.4 billion over five years which he hoped to save through his reform of PIPs.  If he scraps his plan it will represent the latest in a string of u-turns which include his pre-Budget abandonment of plans to reform pension tax relief.

Conservative MP Andrew Percy, who has led the backbench opposition, said Mr Duncan Smith’s resignation was “a big surprise”.

He said he had “maximum respect” for Mr Duncan Smith who had “worked tirelessly around welfare reform”.

> Comment: how Mr Duncan Smith has damaged Mr Osborne’s ambitions



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