POLITICS

David Cameron 'Disappointed And Puzzled' At Resignation Of IDS

Here's one cut the PM didn't expect...

19/03/2016 01:31 GMT | Updated 19/03/2016 01:39 GMT
ASSOCIATED PRESS
David Cameron leaves 10 Downing street for the House of Commons for his weekly Prime Minister's Question time, in London, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016

David Cameron said on Friday he is "puzzled and disappointed" by the dramatic resignation of Iain Duncan Smith, who quit the Cabinet with a scathing attack on an "indefensible" gutting of the welfare budget.

In a damning resignation letter published to the media, the Work and Pensions Secretary accused the chancellor of making cuts that were "politically motivated" rather than what was in the best interest of the national economy.

"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," Duncan Smith wrote.

"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 have instead 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 whilst 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."

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. David Cameron

Although IDS was known to disagree with the prime minister and the chancellor over Britain remaining in the EU, Wednesday's budget, which slashed £4bn from Personal Independence Payments (PIPs), proved beyond reconciliation.

Earlier, George Osborne signaled the Treasury would climbdown over the plans to change PIP assessment criteria with government sources saying the proposals would be kicked "into the long grass."

In his response to Duncan Smith, Cameron wrote: "I regret that you have chosen to step down from the Government at this moment. Together we designed the Personal Independence Payment 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," he added. "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."

LEON NEAL via Getty Images
Iain Duncan Smith arrives to attend a pre-Budget cabinet meeting at Downing Street in London, on March 16, 2016

Leaders of both Opposition parties called for Osborne to follow Duncan Smith's lead and resign. "The Budget has exposed George Osborne's record of profound unfairness and economic failure," said Jeremy Corbyn. "Not only must the cuts to support for disabled people be abandoned, but the Government must change economic course," he added. "The Chancellor has failed the British people. He should follow the honourable course taken by Iain Duncan Smith and resign."

Many Tory MPs praised IDS for taking a stand, including backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg who called Duncan Smith "as important a welfare secretary as I can think of."

However, former Labour frontbencher Chuka Umunna suggested his resignation was more about Europe than the cuts. "IDS resigning has everything to do with the EU and nothing to do with welfare - why wait this long after causing misery to so many to resign?" he said.

David Cameron's Response in full:

We are all very proud of the welfare reforms which this Government has delivered over the last six years, and in which you have played an important part.  As a Government, we have done a huge amount to get people into work, reduce unemployment and promote social justice.  There are now more people in work than ever before in our country’s history, with 2.4 million more jobs created since 2010.

I regret that you have chosen to step down from the Government at this moment. Together we designed the Personal Independence Payment 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.

You leave the Government with my thanks and best wishes.  While we are on different sides in the vital debate about the future of Britain’s relations with Europe, the Government will, of course, continue with its policy of welfare reform, matched by our commitment to social justice, to improving the life chances of the most disadvantaged people in our country, and to ensuring that those who most need help and protection continue to receive it.