But he struck a combative tone as he defended the core principles of his tax-cutting budget and overall economic strategy, which Duncan Smith attacked as “deeply unfair” after stepping down as work and pensions secretary.
At the weekend, Duncan Smith, a former party leader, launched a withering attack on Osborne, accusing him of safeguarding wealthy, Tory-voting pensioners at the expense of cuts that hit the working poor and disabled.
The chancellor rejected the claim as he spoke in the Commons, insisting that he represented a “one nation” government, but said there would be no change to the triple lock on the state pension and universal benefits such as free bus passes.
“The truth is that we have made substantial savings from pensioner welfare – half a trillion pounds of savings,” said Osborne.
“They are vital to the long-term sustainability of our public finances but we’ve made these savings in a way that enables us to go on giving people who have worked hard all their lives a decent, generous basic state pension that we committed to in our manifesto, and I am not going to take that away from people.”
He came under sustained pressure from Labour MPs over how he will fill the £4.4bn hole left by the U-turn, with Labour’s former work and pensions secretary Yvette Cooper saying he would breach his self-imposed cap on welfare spending.
John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said: “The behaviour of the chancellor over the last 11 days calls into question his fitness for office he now holds.”
The budget was the result of the “grubby, incompetent manipulations of a political chancellor”, he added.
But Osborne was in no mood to apologise despite being pressed several times by Labour and SNP MPs.
On the first occasion, he replied: “I have made it clear that where we’ve made a mistake, where we’ve got things wrong, we listen and we learn. That’s precisely what we’ve done.”
Asked again, he said: “I have already said we are not going ahead with these changes. And I have addressed these issues.”
Pressed for a third time, Osborne added: “I couldn’t have been clearer. We listened, we learned, we made a mistake, we withdrew the proposals.”
Osborne was supported by vocal backbenchers who had turned out to support him following a difficult week in which bookmakers lengthened his odds of becoming the next Conservative leader. Party whips had ensured that all the questions from Tories were positive, with Osborne’s biggest critics absent from the chamber.
Osborne’s budget – without the PIP cuts – did secure Duncan Smith’s vote on Tuesday night in parliament. He joined all other Conservative colleagues in backing the legislation.
The chancellor is also likely to be questioned about the welfare climbdown when he appears in front of the Treasury select committee on Thursday, despite the session focusing largely on Europe. Labour MPs on the committee, such as Wes Streeting, Rachel Reeves and John Mann, pushed Osborne on the issue in parliament yesterday.
Mann said MPs had “not homed in precisely enough” on Osborne’s answers about welfare and the chancellor would face more forensic questioning in the committee.
However, he said Osborne could come under even more pressure in two weeks when he faces the committee for a second time, after the dust has settled on the budget.
“It was easier than it should have been today for Osborne to go out and be bold and repackage the same message, not concede anything and pretend nothing’s happened,” he said.
Reeves said she welcomed the climbdown over PIP reforms, but said of Osborne: “Now he has to explain how they are going to fill their £4.4bn hole. Does this mean more taxes, more spending or more borrowing?”
Boris Johnson, a leading campaigner in the push to leave the European Union, will also appear in front of the committee on Wednesday in his role as mayor of London. Mann said he would get a “very tough and difficult ride” as members press him for detail on how the UK would look outside the EU.
“He’s never faced this scrutiny and it’s possible it will be a game changer if he implodes. He has a pretty easy ride if he’s prepared but if he tries to bluster it could hurt him,” Mann said.
Streeting argued that the mayor’s decision to back Brexit was questionable given that it was unpopular among Londoners and would damage the City of London. “The Treasury select committee is forensic – he had better turn up well-prepared,” he said.
Johnson is expected to argue that the UK is part of a global world, and that the City is so strong that it will not be affected by Brexit.
He will say he believes that the EU is heading into ever closer political union that could threaten jobs and growth.
Budget cuts: Cooper and Osborne battle it out over unfairness
“The chancellor boasted when he opened the debate that this was the first time a chancellor had opened the final day of a budget debate.
“He will know that that is because it is also the first time a chancellor has had to drop the biggest revenue-raiser in his budget within two days of announcing it. The former work and pensions secretary, who has just resigned and to whom the chancellor paid great tribute, described the budget as ‘deeply unfair’ and ‘drifting’ in a wrong direction that will divide the country, not unite it.”
“I am glad the right honourable lady intervened, because I have done a little research and, frankly, I wish that when she was the chief secretary to the Treasury we had seen a few more revenue-raisers in budgets.
“During the period in which she was the chief secretary, the deficit went from £76bn a year to £154bn. The measures that my right honourable friend and I have been taking over the last six years are to clear up the mess that she and her colleagues in government left … I have said that when we have made a mistake, we have listened and learned.”
“The chancellor did not address the issue of the unfairness of his budget, so will he address the issue of the revenue behind his budget? He has abandoned £4.4bn in revenue-raisers. Where is that money going to come from, or will he change the scorecard he set out?”
“I will tell you what is unfair: to saddle the next generation with debts you have no way of paying off. That is what the right honourable lady did. That is what she did. I will come on specifically to disability benefits, but let me tell her about fairness and what we have done over the last six years. We have taken action that means 500,000 fewer children are growing up in workless households than when she was at the Treasury, 1 million fewer people are on out-of-work benefits and over 2 million more people are in work.”
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