LONDON: Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to reshuffle his government Saturday after a top euroskeptic’s surprise resignation over benefit cuts sent shock waves through his campaign to keep Britain in the EU.
Iain Duncan Smith, a former leader of Cameron’s Conservatives and key figure on its right wing, quit as Work and Pensions Secretary Friday with a scathing letter lambasting cuts to benefits for disabled people announced in this week’s budget.
Duncan Smith’s decision after nearly six years in the job has delivered perhaps the biggest blow to Cameron since his re-election last year, with just three months to go until the referendum on EU membership on June 23.
In his resignation letter, Duncan Smith questioned whether Cameron was honouring his slogan that Britons were “all in this together”, despite deep austerity cuts including £1.3 billion (1.2 billion euros, $1.4 billion) in annual cuts to disability welfare.
“I hope as the government goes forward you can look again at the balance of the cuts you have insisted upon and wonder if enough has been done to ensure ‘we are all in this together’,” Duncan Smith wrote.
In response, Cameron said he was “puzzled” by Duncan Smith’s resignation as he had agreed the cuts a week ago before Downing Street subsequently decided Friday to revise them in the face of opposition.
As Cameron appointed Stephen Crabb, the pro-EU former Welsh Secretary, to replace Duncan Smith Saturday, commentators questioned how much of a part Europe had also played in his resignation.