Cameron to Face Parliament as U.K. Conservative Turmoil Worsens

Iain Duncan Smith

Iain Duncan Smith on the Andrew Marr Show, Sunday, March, 20.

Photographer: Jeff Overs/BBC
  • Duncan Smith says Conservatives must be one-nation party again
  • Osborne, Johnson to face questions on EU referendum this week

David Cameron will address Parliament Monday after a weekend in which the splits in his Conservative Party worsened, with Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith resigning from the cabinet citing planned cuts in the Budget then criticizing the style and focus of the prime minister’s government.

More turmoil threatens this week over the Budget and the pros and cons of leaving the European Union. In a humiliation to Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, Cameron’s statement, at 3.30 p.m. in London, will be followed by one from new Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb, announcing the decision to drop one of the key cost-saving measures from last week’s Budget statement, cuts to payments for the disabled.

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At the heart of the public reason for the Conservative spat -- Duncan Smith’s resignation over those disability cuts -- was the real split within the party: Whether or not to leave the EU. Former leader Michael Howard appealed to the party to “just calm down” following a weekend that saw senior Tory figures queuing up to argue in public about the direction of the Conservatives.

All should “remember that it’s less than a year since the Conservative Party won a general election under David Cameron’s leadership,” Howard told the BBC. “We have a responsibility to govern the country and that we all therefore need to behave in a responsible way.”

‘Think Again’

Duncan Smith said Sunday he was no longer able to support the cuts to disability benefits while taxes for higher earners and companies are being lowered. He denied his decision to quit late Friday as work and pensions secretary had anything to do with his support for leaving the EU in the June 23 referendum, a position in opposition to the prime minister and chancellor.

“I am resigning because I want my government to think again about this and get back to that position that I believe, which is about being a one-nation” party, Duncan Smith told the “Andrew Marr Show” on BBC Television. “I believe they’re losing sight of the direction of travel.”

The criticism by Duncan Smith, a former Tory leader, that the tax and welfare changes are “deeply unfair” and the government is focusing too much on deficit cuts raises pressure on Osborne. The chancellor is already falling behind London Mayor Boris Johnson in the race to succeed Cameron when the prime minister steps down before the 2020 general election.

Having been forced to put the disability-benefit changes on hold while the details are revised, the chancellor also faces a possible rebellion by some Tories in Parliament this week over an EU-driven increase in the sales tax on solar-energy equipment.

Johnson vs Osborne

The divide within the party on Europe will take center stage on Wednesday and Thursday, when Johnson, the most prominent campaigner for leaving the EU, and then Osborne, one of those most committed to staying in, are questioned by Parliament’s Treasury Committee about the economic and financial costs involved.

While Osborne’s Budget initially drew a positive reaction from Tory lawmakers, criticism soon began to surface about the impact of disability-benefit changes, intended to save about 4.4 billion pounds ($6.3 billion) over five years. The government signaled on Friday, before Duncan Smith quit, that it was looking again at the details.

At least 16 anti-EU Conservatives also announced opposition to a plan to increase value-added tax on solar panels to 20 percent from 5 percent, in line with an EU ruling, with a view to blocking it in a House of Commons vote that may take place on Tuesday.

Osborne ‘Damaged’

Peter Lilley, a former Tory minister, said on BBC Radio 4 that Osborne had been “damaged but not destroyed” by the latest developments and is “not necessarily the best person” to take over from Cameron.

Bookmakers lengthened the odds on Osborne getting the top job, with William Hill Plc making Johnson the favorite at 15/8, meaning a successful 8-pound bet would make a profit of 15 pounds.

Two opinion polls last week suggested the opposition Labour Party had made up ground on the Conservatives even before the Budget splits, and was running neck-and-neck with the Tories.

“The Conservative Party is tearing itself apart over an unfair Budget,” Owen Smith, Labour’s work and pensions spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement.

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