New Year Honours list: Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith handed knighthood

27 December 2019, 22:30

Former Tory Party leader Iain Duncan Smith has been handed a knighthood
Former Tory Party leader Iain Duncan Smith has been handed a knighthood. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Former Tory Party leader Iain Duncan Smith has been handed a knighthood, leading the list of politicians handed gongs in the New Year Honours list.

Veteran Conservative MP Bob Neill, who was chairman of the Commons Justice Committee in the last Parliament, has also been knighted, while Labour MP Diana Johnson, who campaigned on behalf of victims of the NHS contaminated blood scandal, is made a dame.

But the move to knight Sir Iain has been criticised by opposition parties, who said it "beggared belief" that someone whose policies had caused so much distress should be honoured in this way.

As work and pensions secretary under David Cameron, the MP for Chingford and Woodford Green was the architect of the Government's controversial Universal Credit welfare reforms.

In government, Sir Iain argued the changes were designed to end the benefits trap, ensuring that it always paid for claimants to take work, while simplifying the system.

Veteran Conservative MP Bob Neill has also been knighted
Veteran Conservative MP Bob Neill has also been knighted. Picture: PA

However, complications with the roll-out of the new system and delays in making payments were blamed for driving thousands of low-income families into poverty.

A Labour Party spokesman said it was "unfortunate to see that one of Boris Johnson's first priorities" was to reward Sir Iain - the "primary architect of the cruel Universal Credit system, which has pushed thousands of people into poverty" - with a knighthood.

"Boris Johnson should be trying to fix his party's shameful mistakes, not give out rewards to those responsible for its failure," they said.

In 2016, Sir Iain unexpectedly resigned from the cabinet, attacking the Government's policy of welfare cuts.

An ardent Brexiteer, as a backbencher he was a leading light in the Tory European Research Group.

Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine said Sir Iain had been responsible for creating a welfare system in which people were expected to survive for weeks without payment, causing "untold stress".

"It beggars belief that Iain Duncan Smith has been rewarded in the New Year's Honours list," she said.

"He is the architect of Universal Credit - a failed system that has left thousands of families struggling to pay bills and buy food."

The senior Labour MEP Claude Moraes, a long-standing campaigner for refugees and on justice and civil liberties issues, has also been made an OBE.