British culture minister quits over expenses spat

AFP , Wednesday 9 Apr 2014

Britain's Minister for Culture, Media and Sport Maria Miller leaves 10 Downing Street after a cabinet meeting in central London April 8, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)

Maria Miller, the minister overseeing future regulation of Britain's press, has quit her cabinet post following a row over expenses, Downing Street announced on Wednesday.

"Maria Miller has resigned as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport," said a statement from Prime Minister David Cameron's office.

Miller had faced a week of pressure from the main opposition Labour Party, and from her Conservative colleagues, over payments she had claimed linked to a mortgage.

Cameron had given her his backing over the issue, but in her resignation letter to the prime minister, Miller said the matter had now become a "distraction".

"It has become clear to me that the present situation has become a distraction from the vital work this government is doing to turn our country around," Miller wrote.

Cameron replied that he was "sad" at her departure but accepted her decision.

Miller had last week made a terse 31-second apology to parliament for providing limited information to an inquiry into her claims.

An independent inquiry found she should pay back £45,000 ($75,400, 54,600 euros), but that was cut to £5,800 by a committee of lawmakers.

More than 140,000 people had signed an online petition calling for Miller to resign or pay back the larger sum.

Two-thirds of Conservative Party members had believed she should stand down, according to a poll, because they feared the row was an unwanted distraction in the run-up to local and European elections next month.

Labour lawmaker John Mann, who made the original allegations against Miller which triggered the standards investigation, said: "About time too."

"Maria Miller should have resigned immediately and when she didn't resign, Mr Cameron should have shown a bit of leadership and sacked her," he told BBC radio.

A spokesman for the centre-left party said Miller had "finally done the right thing".

"By resigning, she has recognised that the public expect and deserve the highest standards from politicians," he said.

"Labour said all along that you cannot have one rule for a Cabinet minister and one rule for everybody else.

"That it came to this raises questions for David Cameron, whose judgment has been found wanting. Yet again he has shown himself to be out of touch and a prime minister who only stands up for one of his own."

As Conservative support for Miller ebbed away, Employment Minister Esther McVey -- who is tipped as a possible replacement -- on Tuesday broke ranks with her cabinet colleagues, saying she would have handled the apology differently.

Cameron must face a potentially fraught meeting of senior Conservative backbenchers on Wednesday, which will give critics an opportunity to voice their frustration over his handling of the issue.

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