x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Fourth UK minister quits

The communities secretary Hazel Blears has told Gordon Brown she will step down from her job before an expected Cabinet reshuffle.

A fourth member of the British prime minister Gordon Brown's government has quit in a new blow to his political authority amid public outrage over the MP's expense scandal. The communities secretary Hazel Blears said she told Mr Brown in a meeting that she would step down from her job before an expected reshuffle of his Cabinet in the coming days. "Today I have told the prime minister that I am resigning from the government," Ms Blears said in a statement.

Her resignation follows the decision of the home secretary Jacqui Smith and two junior ministers on Tuesday to quit Mr Brown's government. The developments have put pressure on Mr Brown, who many observers believe has lost control of his Cabinet amid public fury over legislators' excessive expense claims. British newspapers speculated that Mr Brown's grip on power was slipping away. Ms Blears has been criticised for making tens of thousands of pounds tax free by selling a home she was using public money to maintain.

Mr Brown is expected to shake up his Cabinet on Friday or early next week in an effort to recover from the scandal. He had described Ms Blears' actions as unacceptable, and was expected to fire her. MPs from all parties have expensed items ranging from cookies and cushions to horse manure, swimming pool repairs and bogus home loan payments, outraging the public. About 15 politicians, including members of Mr Brown's Labour Party and the Conservatives, have said they will not run for re-election.

Analysts say hundreds more could be ousted in the next national election, which Mr Brown must call by June 2010. Beverley Hughes, a junior schools minister, and Tom Watson, a minister and longtime aide to Mr Brown, said on Tuesday that they plan to quit their government posts. The resignations come before elections on Thursday for Britain's representatives to the European Parliament, as well as for about 2,300 seats on local councils. Mr Brown's Labour Party is expected to be routed.