UK's Cameron seeks to quell party feud

2016-03-21 17:01
(Matt Dunham, AP)

(Matt Dunham, AP)

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London - British Prime Minister David Cameron was seeking to impose discipline on his warring Conservative Party on Monday, after a Cabinet resignation - ostensibly about unpopular welfare reforms - blew the top on simmering divisions over the European Union.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who has pushed through big changes to the country's welfare system over the past six years, dramatically quit late on Friday, accusing the government of targeting the poor for cuts while protecting pensions for the better-off.

Welfare reform

Duncan Smith said earlier: "I'm passionate about trying to improve the quality of life for those in difficult circumstances.

"Now, I want to do that and I want my party to do that. But I felt that I'm losing my ability to influence that."

The resignation of Duncan Smith - a former Conservative leader whose nickname during his time at the helm between 2001 and 2003 was "The Quiet Man" - has set off a firestorm in his party for reasons that have little to do with welfare reform.

Duncan Smith is among a group of senior Conservatives who want Britain to leave the European Union and his resignation has heaped pressure on Cameron and Treasury chief George Osborne - both of whom want the UK to stay in the EU. The country will decide in a June 23 referendum whether to remain in the 28-nation bloc.

Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, said Duncan Smith's move would bolster the "out" campaign.

"I think it reinforces the public view that David Cameron and George Osborne appear to be disconnected from public opinion," he said. Bale added that the Duncan Smith's accusations add to a perception that Cameron and Osborne are "taking from the poor and disabled and giving to the rich."

Duncan Smith's resignation was followed by a series of strikingly barbed and partisan remarks as senior Tories blamed one another for the mess. Pensions Minister Ros Altmann, who worked under Duncan Smith, accused him of wanting "to do maximum damage to the party leadership in order to further his campaign to try to get Britain to leave the EU."

Migration summit

But Employment Minister Priti Patel said Duncan Smith had resigned because he was "extremely passionate about the principle of social justice.

"I fundamentally believe that this is not about Europe," she told the BBC.

Cameron - who has staked his political future on getting voters to remain in the EU - is due to report to the House of Commons on Monday afternoon about last week's migration summit in Brussels. But the session will likely be dominated by welfare cuts and issue that has divided the Conservatives since Britain joined the EU in the 1970s.

Read more on:    david cameron  |  uk

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