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Government close to civil war over IDS resignation

Credit: PA

The government is close to civil war, with claim and counter-claim by ministers from within the department of work and pensions about the conduct of Iain Duncan Smith, whose resignation on Friday night rocked Downing Street.

Late last night, the pensions minister in the Lords, Ros Altmann, put out a "personal statement" that:

"I am extremely shocked by the news of Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation and the way he has behaved... I’m particularly saddened that this really seems to be about the European referendum campaign rather than about DWP policy.

"From a personal perspective, for months I have been silenced by him and what I have said has been strictly controlled. I have had to accept that this is part of being in Government, but am therefore horrified to see him abuse the freedom to take sides [on the EU] the Prime Minister has generously offered to ministers...

"I have found him exceptionally difficult to work for. It has been a hugely challenging time for me as he was preventing me from speaking to the public and has often been obstructive to my efforts to resolve important pension policy issues such as on women's pensions."

Baroness Altmann was 'shocked' by IDS's reason for resigning. Credit: Jonathan Brady/PA

But Baroness Altmann's recollection of being closed down by Duncan Smith is this morning contradicted by the other junior pensions minister, the MP Shailesh Vara.

In a message to Duncan Smith that Vara has authorised to be published, Vara says:

"I have to say I'm surprised by Ros's comments. The fact is that I recall Ros attending all the meetings at which we openly discussed government policy and then we both went out to defend the policy in the Commons and Lords, which as you know wasn't always easy to do.

"Ros's recollection does not accord with mine and I'm sorry this has happened".

This back and forth between serving ministers of the government is a nightmare for the prime minister.

If Downing Street authorised Baroness Altmann to speak out last night, its officials may be regretting giving her that licence this morning.

UPDATE:

The civil war just intensified, as the employment minister Priti Patel - who attends cabinet - also laid into Altmann.

She said: "All meetings with our Ministerial team have been constructive and every Minister has had the freedom to take forward policy ideas in their brief, to lead media campaigns and engage freely with parliamentary colleagues.

Iain has been a remarkable SofS [Secretary of State] to work with. He has run the largest delivery Dept in Govt with great determination and it has been a real privilege to work with him as one of his Ministers."

And another DWP minister. Justin Tomlinson, said:

"Iain always conducted himself in a professional, dedicated and determined manner. He actively encouraged Ministers and teams to engage, challenge and develop ideas. We were to be ourselves, our judgement backed as we worked as a team both for DWP and the Government".

This is getting bloody.

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