David Cameron is to face his MPs for the first time since Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation on Friday over welfare cuts, as George Osborne came under fire for having “disappeared” since his budget started unravelling.
The prime minister will address angry Conservative backbenchers in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon when he gives a statement on the EU summit. He is expected to mount a defence of his government and one nation Tory credentials after excoriating criticism from Duncan Smith, who said at the weekend that the unfair balance of welfare cuts risks dividing the nation.
Stephen Crabb, the new work and pensions secretary, will also confirm to parliament that the government is scrapping the disability cuts included in the budget, which prompted Duncan Smith’s resignation.
However, MPs demanded to know why Osborne has not answered questions about the budget and was not set to address parliament until Wednesday.
The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, challenged the chancellor to explain to MPs how the holes in his budget would be filled and repeated calls for him to consider standing down.
“The budget doesn’t add up. The chancellor of the exchequer should come back to parliament and explain that,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“Far from just Iain Duncan Smith resigning, if a chancellor puts forward a budget – as he did – knowing full well that he is making this huge hit on the disabled, then really it should perhaps be him who should be considering his position.”
It was not just Labour that called for Osborne to make an appearance. Michael Fabricant, an MP and former Tory vice-chairman, tweeted:
While Osborne has been silent, several senior cabinet ministers – including Amber Rudd, the energy secretary, and Greg Clark, the communities secretary – were sent out to defend the budget and attempt to limit the damage from Duncan Smith’s departure.
In a round of interviews, Clark said Osborne was a “compassionate man” and sought to emphasise that Duncan Smith had worked closely with the Tory leadership on welfare policies over the past six years.
Asked on Sky why Osborne was not defending the budget himself, Clark said: “The chancellor is opening the budget debate on Wednesday and I don’t think the chancellor has been lacking in promoting the budget.”
The Conservative party has been in a civil war since Duncan Smith’s dramatic resignation on Friday night. There have even been reports that Cameron blames Osborne, although Downing Street insisted this was untrue and the two men were as close as ever.
In a parting interview on Sunday, Duncan Smith accused Osborne of delivering a “deeply unfair” budget that inflicted substantial reductions in disability benefits while offering tax cuts for the most affluent.
He also said a Treasury climbdown over changes to disability benefits known as personal independence payments (PIP) would still leave his old Whitehall department having to find more than £4bn of savings from the welfare budget.
“The truth is yes, we need to get the deficit down,” Duncan Smith told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show. “But we need to make sure we widen the scope of where we look and not just narrow it down on working-age benefits.”
He insisted his decision had nothing to do with the fight over the EU referendum taking place inside the party.
Downing Street has sought to paint the resignation as connected to Europe and one MP accused Duncan Smith of lobbing a grenade into the party.
Michael Howard, the former Conservative leader, who is campaigning for an exit from the EU, urged Tory MPs to calm down and “remember our responsibility to the country” while saying Osborne should be judged on his “outstanding” record in government.
But other Tory backbenchers sent messages of support to Duncan Smith, with some launching their own attacks on Cameron and Osborne.
Sarah Wollaston, MP for Totnes, described the weekend’s events as a “pivotal moment” for her party. “The party has got to resolve this. You cannot have a rhetoric as a party that says we’ve got to all be in this together and then the budget kind of demonstrates it is very clearly not that.”
Bernard Jenkin, a leading Eurosceptic voice in the party, told Sky News: “Everything is dictated from the top for short-term political advantage, everything is tactical – this cannot go on.”
Steve Baker, Tory MP and leader of the Conservative out campaign, said the budget had triggered a “nightmare” for Tories that must not be allowed to poison the EU debate. “We’ve ended up being elected on a manifesto that preserves all benefits for pensioners irrespective of their own wealth and in a rather woolly way to save billions of pounds in working-age benefits.”
Heidi Allen, a leading rebel on tax credits last year, said the jury was out on whether the Conservatives had the right chancellor.
Pressed on whether Osborne could still become prime minister, Allen said: “Sometimes the strength of a man is how he picks himself up. Let’s see how he responds. If this is attempted to be brushed under the carpet, I would say his chances are over.”
This article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Monday 21st March 2016 11.11 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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