Theresa May is facing fresh controversy after the dramatic resignation of sports minister Tracey Crouch in protest at a delay in introducing a cut to the maximum stake for fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs).
Ms Crouch’s action drew applause from across the political spectrum and won the praise of the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
The MP resigned from her ministerial post after insisting that not cutting the maximum wager on FOBTs from £100 to £2 until October 2019 was “unjustifiable”, and indicated it could cost lives.
The move appeared to energise support for bringing in a bet limit earlier with talk of Mrs May facing a potential rebel amendment to the Finance Bill later this month.
International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt and Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom spoke warmly about Ms Crouch after she quit, and ex-foreign secretary Boris Johnson said the MP deserved credit for sticking by her principles.
Mr Welby tweeted: “@tracey_crouch who resigned as Sports Minister over the delay to reducing the maximum stake on fixed odds betting machines, is principled and courageous. May God bless her commitment to doing right.”
In a hard hitting resignation letter to the Prime Minister, Ms Crouch said: “Unfortunately, implementation of these changes are now being delayed until October 2019 due to commitments made by others to those with registered interests.
“From the time of the announcement to reduce stakes and its implementation, over £1.6 billion will be lost on these machines.
“In addition, two people will tragically take their lives every day due to gambling-related problems and, for that reason as much as any other, I believe this delay is unjustifiable.”
Mrs May replied that she was “disappointed” by Ms Crouch’s move and insisted there had been no delay.
She wrote: “There has been no delay in bringing forward this important measure.
“Indeed, as you know from your work as the minister responsible, we listened to those who wanted it to come into effect sooner than April 2020 and have agreed that the changes should be in place within the year – October 2019.
“Having taken the decision to make this very significant cut in maximum stakes, we must ensure that this change can be implemented in an orderly and effective manner to make sure it delivers on the results we all want to see.”
Ms Crouch drew praise from across the political divide.
Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson tweeted: “Congratulations to @tracey_crouch who deserves huge credit not just for her campaign but for sticking up for her principles.”
Ms Mordaunt said: “She has done amazing work on gambling, on mental health, on loneliness, women’s empowerment, sport and civil society, of which she should be very proud.”
Mrs Leadsom tweeted a picture of Ms Crouch’s resignation letter, adding: “And you are a superbly principled politician, Tracey. A real loss x”
Shadow culture secretary Tom Watson also tweeted praise for Ms Crouch saying: “She poured her heart and soul into a significant review of these destructive machines, faced down a systematic lobbying attempt by the gambling industry and took the right decision for those suffering from problem gambling, their families and communities.”
Mr Watson blamed Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Jeremy Wright for the delay, saying: “The new Secretary of State has threatened all of this good work. He has prioritised corporate interests over victims, profits over public health and greed over good. He should be thoroughly ashamed.”
Ms Crouch had been a leading campaigner in reducing the maximum stake for FOBTs.
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith joined cross-party calls to bring the change forward to April 2019.
Mrs May did not immediately replace Ms Crouch as sports minister and is believed to be considering candidates for the role.
Mr Welby provoked controversy among some Conservatives in September when he called for the rollout of Universal Credit to be halted, an increase in the living wage and tax reforms, and raised concerns about the increased use of food banks.
After Mr Welby’s criticism, the PM said: “We will sometimes disagree on things just as I will disagree with other members of the Church of England on things.”