Belfast Telegraph

Home News UK

PM brushes off Baker resignation

David Cameron has played down the importance of Liberal Democrat Norman Baker's decision to quit the Home Office, quipping the Government will "cope without him".

The Prime Minister heaped praise on Theresa May, insisting she was the tough, strong Home Secretary the country needed to keep i t safe.

During a visit to Chatham docks in Kent, Mr Cameron told reporters that he was sure Mr Baker would find other things to do.

But, as he walked off, the premier was heard to say: "We'll cope without him."

Mr Baker quit last night claiming that working with Mrs May had been like "walking through mud" because she treated the Home Office as a Conservative department despite being in coalition.

Asked about the announcement, Mr Cameron said: "Obviously, it's a matter for him and the Liberal Democrats and I'm sure the new minister will get on with the job.

"But overall, I think the Home Office has got a good record.

"It's reformed the police, I think, effectively, it's seen a very significant fall in crime over the last four and a half years and Theresa May is a strong and effective Home Secretary."

He added: "I have worked with Theresa May for eight or nine years now. She is a very effective politician, a very effective administrator.

"I want someone who is a tough Home Secretary, it's a tough world out there. You've got to deal with crime, you've got to deal with terrorism, we've needed to reform the police, we've need to take a whole series of actions to keep this country safe.

"Yes, she is tough and robust but that's why I think she is so good. Many ministers have worked with her very effectively knowing that she is a strong leader."

Mr Baker has complained that Mrs May and her closest aides repeatedly set out to shut down his activities at the Home Office. The Home Secretary's special advisers scrutinised what he was up to then "tried to minimise my room for manoeuvre", he said.

His comments came as Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced that Lynne Featherstone will be replacing Mr Baker as the Liberal Democrats' representative in the department.

Ms Featherstone, who previously served as equalities minister, said she was "very happy to be returning to the Home Office".

Seemingly contradicting Mr Baker's assessment, she said: "I have always had a very constructive relationship with Theresa May and I look forward to working with her again."

Conservative former minister Damian Green insisted that Mr Baker had been the cause of tensions in the department because he tried to act as if he had the same ministerial rank as Mrs May.

But the Lewes MP denied the claims and laid the blame for his departure firmly at Mrs May's door.

"I'm afraid that the Home Secretary, who I think is a formidable woman and a very competent Home Secretary, has one great drawback, which is that she regards this a Conservative department in a Conservative Government and it's not," he said. "It's a coalition department in a coalition Government and I'm afraid that mindset has rather soured things."

He added: "Clearly, there were issues which were in my portfolio which I wanted to take forward and under normal circumstances in any other department I would have been allowed to progress and really there were obstacles put in the way sometimes.

"Her special advisers, in particular, were scrutinising what I was doing and they tried to minimise my room for manoeuvre."

Mr Baker announced he was quitting last night, telling the Independent that working with Mrs May was like "walking through mud".

He highlighted a drugs report that Lib Dems claimed backed the case for a review of the current law, claiming it had been "blocked numerous times" by the Tories.

Mr Baker insisted today that he had formed good working relationships with "many Conservatives" in government, including Mr Green.

"Indeed, I've had a couple of texts this morning from senior Conservatives saying how sorry they are I'm standing down," he said.

But he refused to share the identities of the well-wishers, saying it "wouldn't help their career prospects".

Mr Baker said it had been "onerous" being the only Lib Dem at the Home Office and he was "not sure" that predecessor Jeremy Browne "did manage very well" in the department.

Asked if he was leaving a mess for colleagues to clean up, he replied: "No. I think what I'm doing actually strengthens the position because I think the Home Secretary, I hope, will now think more carefully about how she engages with her Coalition partners."

He added: "I think it is exceptional rather than symbolic as a matter of fact. I think relations across the Coalition are professional and by and large productive.

"I think the Home Office is the cutting edge of the coalition in many ways. It's where the difficult issues arise - immigration and Europe and so on.

"It's not helped by the Home Secretary's views apparently that there is a Conservative Government with a few Lib Dems in it rather than a coalition Government."

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg expressed regret at the loss of "one of the most effective ministers" in the Government but said he "fully" understood why he was stepping down.

"I understand and respect the reasons he has given for standing down as a minister. He was an outstanding minister, but these things happen," he said.

With Ms Featherstone moving to the Home Office, Baroness Northover will take her old job at International Development.

Lorely Burt and Tom Brake become Assistant Government Whips - the latter alongside his job as Deputy Leader of the House - after the departures of Mark Hunter and Jenny Willott.

Your Comments

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph