Ex-Lib Dem minister Norman Baker slams Theresa May

FORMER Lib Dem minister Norman Baker has hit out at Tory Home Secretary Theresa May for “minimising his room for manoeuvre” and giving him no choice but to resign.

FORMER Lib Dem minister Norman Baker has hit out at Tory Home Secretary Theresa May for “minimising his room for manoeuvre” and giving him no choice but to resign.

Mr Baker, who suddenly quit the Home Office on Monday night, had clashed with Mrs May over his hopes to liberalise drugs policy and over the Tory hard line on immigration.

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In a stinging attack on his departure he said she treated the department “like a Conservative department not a coalition government department.”

The departure has forced Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg into a mini reshuffle and seen the return of Lynne Featherstone to number two at the Home Office, a position she held at the start of the coalition government in 2010.

However, Conservatives said Mr Baker’s problem was over estimating his own importance.

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 Lib Dem 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.

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“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 a national newspaper 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 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.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Mr Baker’s resignation was not raised at the morning Cabinet meeting.

“It didn’t come up, no,” the spokesman said as he defended Mrs May’s record in office following Mr Baker’s attack.

“In terms of Mr Baker’s views, I will leave you to talk to him about them. As for the Home Secretary, crime is falling, drug use is falling, Abu Qatada is back in Jordan. That pretty much covers that.”

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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.”

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.