12/05/2003

Short resigns claiming Blair broke pledges

After weeks of speculation over her future, Clare Short has finally resigned her Cabinet post as International Development Secretary.

Earlier this morning she telephoned Downing Street to inform the government of her decision, before issuing a statement attacking the prime minister for breaking pledges he made to her over the role of the UN in post-war Iraq. Ms Short said that the UK's present policy was "wrong in international law".

Baroness Amos, who was parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Foreign Office, has been named as her replacement.

Question marks had been raised in the media over Ms Short's loyalty to the government in recent weeks. Not one to toe the line, Clare Short's condemnation of the prime minister as "reckless" over his stance on the war in Iraq last March was her furthest departure from Cabinet's collective responsibility.

In that interview, less than two weeks before hostilities began, Ms Short said: "The whole atmosphere is deeply reckless. Reckless for the undermining of the UN in this disorderly world which is wider than Iraq. Reckless with our government, reckless with his [Tony Blair's] own future position and place in history."

Ms Short was widely expected to resign her post immediately following that statement. But in the light of Robin Cook's departure, and the resignations of two other government officials, Ms Short was persuaded to stay on with the promise of a strengthened role for the UN in Iraq's reconstruction and government. It was over these pledges that Ms Short quit her post today.

Nonetheless, the nature of her very personal attack on Tony Blair meant that she would be edged out by Number 10 in the coming reshuffle – Ms Short could only pre-empt that decision.

Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said the resignation exposed the "deep divisions" within the government.

"Clare Short's resignation demonstrates what we have been seeing over the past few weeks - a government split from top to bottom. Her resignation is a symptom of the deep, deep divisions in the government. These splits are hurting the government's ability to govern properly in the UK," he said.

Shadow International Development Secretary for the Lib Dems, Jenny Tonge, however, spoke of her sadness at the news.

"Clare Short has been an extremely good International Development Secretary and has been brave enough to challenge her own party on a number of issues, including Iraq," she said. "Whoever replaces her will have a tough act to follow."

It had also been unclear whether Ms Short was in support of foundation hospitals – one of Tony Blair's flagship policies in his drive for public service reform – after she failed to turn up for the vote last week. She cited a simple time-keeping error as reason for her absence.

Last week, the Prime Minister's Official spokesman said that Mr Blair had accepted the explanation.

(GMcG)

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