The news was greeted with glee by Labour who said it made the Secretary of State for Employment either 'a knave or a fool'.
But Mr Portillo said he had not been told by the Department of Employment that the 'priority suppliers scheme' would be hit before he signed an explanatory memorandum for the directive when he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury in October 1992. Nor had it been raised before the directive was approved in 1993. Because his new department admitted it still did not know why the impact on the scheme had not been raised when the directive was being negotiated, Mr Portillo was careful to blame neither David Hunt nor Gillian Shepherd, his predecessors as employment secretary, for the bungle.
Asked if he thought the issue should have been raised, he told the Independent: 'You are trying to make me substitute a judgement that I might have made two years ago if I had been in a different position.' There might have been good reasons for not raising the issue, he said, but the fact was that it had not been raised.
Earlier in the day Mr Portillo said he could not ignore the directive because it was now law. Labour MPs saw that as an attempt to blame his predecessors for what has become an embarrassing dispute with disabled people and Brussels.
Sir Edward Heath, the former prime minister, told BBC's Newsnight last night that if Mr Portillo signed the directive, 'he takes the responsibility'. The Employment Secretary was 'playing politics', trying to show Brussels was 'inhuman and does not consider the disabled, and therefore we ought not to stay in the community'.
Tony Lloyd, Labour's training spokesman, said Mr Portillo's disclosure that he signed the memorandum meant 'he is either a knave or a fool. He either signed it deliberately knowing what was going to happen, or he signed not knowing what was going to happen.'
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