POLITICS

Budget 2016: George Osborne Branded A 'Chicken' For Dodging Commons Grilling Amid Tory Turmoil

Chancellor uncorks Treasury minister David Gauke to face MPs in his place

21/03/2016 14:09 GMT | Updated 21/03/2016 16:48 GMT
Bloomberg via Getty Images

George Osborne has been branded a "chicken" for dodging an attempt to force him to answer questions over his Budget in the wake of Iain Duncan Smith's resignation.

Downing Street has admitted the chancellor now has a £4.4bn welfare ‘black hole’ in his financial plans after he decided to U-turn on planned cuts to disability benefits.

Commons Speaker John Bercow agreed to a request from Labour's Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell this morning that a minister answer an Urgent Question on the matter.

However rather than sending Osborne to face a grilling, the government chose to send David Gauke, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury.

Osborne is due to wind up the Budget debate on Tuesday. But Labour MPs immediately jumped on the chancellor's decision not to come to the Commons today.

McDonnell said it was "unacceptable to the country and insulting to Parliament" that Osborne had not turned up.

"It is deeply disappointing that George Osborne is cowardly hiding behind his junior minister instead of showing some leadership in a crisis of his own making," he said.

The shadow chancellor told the Commons he felt "sympathy" with Gauke who had been sent out to "defend the indefensible" in the place of Osborne.

Gauke was greeted noisily as he stood to defend the government's position and tell MPs he was "grateful for the opportunity" to set out the government's "long term economic plan".

The financial secretary hit back at criticism of the chancellor, noting he would be speaking in the Commons Budget debate tomorrow.

And he dismissed as "pompous nonsense" the claim by Labour MP Barry Gardiner that Osborne's failure to turn up in the Commons showed he lacked "real courage" and meant he was "not fit" to lead the Tory party in the future.

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron mocked the civil war that has engulfed the Conservative Party since his party had been kicked out of coalition at the election.

"I regret the chaos one tends to get with these unstable single party governments," he said. "But not half as much as I regret the failure of the chancellor to be here to answer for himself."

Downing Street today was was forced to say that David Cameron “absolutely” still had “full confidence” in his chancellor despite his Budget imploding in the face of Tory opposition to cuts to Personal Independence Payments (PIP).

A weekend of Tory infighting was triggered after Duncan Smith quit the cabinet to condemn Osborne’s “arbitrary” cap on welfare spending and obsession with “short-term savings”.

And he suggested the chancellor had targeted cuts at the poor because they “don’t vote” Conservative anyway.

According to The Times, the crisis has also cracked the relationship between Cameron and Osborne. The paper reports the prime minister told a cabinet colleague he blamed the chancellor for the row.

This morning, former Tory leadership candidate David Davis said Osborne’s hopes of becoming leader of the Conservative Party if Cameron quits in the near future have “sunk without a trace”.

The £4.4bn earmarked for cuts to (PIP) was the biggest single deficit reduction measure in the Budget and its removal now leaves the Treasury pleading with MPs to vote for it in the hope the figures will come right in a few months’ time.

Pressed on how the black hole will be filled, the Prime Minister’s official spokeswoman said: “There will be an opportunity for further forecasts at the Autumn Statement and decisions made in the light of that”.

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