Blunkett resigns

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David Blunkett resigned as Home Secretary tonight. He is to be replaced by Charles Clarke, currently Education Secretary.

David Blunkett resigned as Home Secretary tonight. He is to be replaced by Charles Clarke, currently Education Secretary.

Mr Blunkett said he was quitting after Sir Alan Budd, who was appointed to investigate allegations that he fast-tracked a visa for his former lover's nanny, has established that there had been an exchange of emails about the the application between his office and immigration officials.

Mr Blunkett said: "I have always been honest about my recollection of events.

"But any perception of this application being speeded up requires me to take responsibility.

"That is why with enormous regret I have tendered my resignation to the Prime Minister today."

Downing Street had been left defending the Home Secretary again after a fresh series of allegations and incidents. But support ebbed away among Cabinet colleagues and Labour MPs.

He left junior Home Office minister Caroline Flint to spearhead a new crackdown on knife crime today and then failed to turn up for a photocall at the start of a gun crime meeting presented by Downing Street as an indication of his determination to get on with the job.

One report said six Cabinet ministers had been prepared to question his future and a copy of the biography of him containing scathing attacks on colleagues was hurled across the Commons chamber by Government Chief Whip Hilary Armstrong.

Her gesture was widely interpreted as expressing her frustration at the continuing controversy enveloping the Home Secretary.

But Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman had insisted the premier maintained full confidence in Mr Blunkett.

His comments came after Labour back bencher Bob Marshall-Andrews said Mr Blunkett had become "quite seriously unbalanced".

And Mr Blunkett had been urged to carefully consider whether he was still capable of doing his job by senior Labour backbencher Gwyneth Dunwoody.

The Crewe and Nantwich MP had said: "The Home Secretary has had a lot of very, very unfortunate publicity and that can happen to any of us. But then we have to regard ourselves rather carefully to ask if we are doing the job we are paid for properly. If we are not doing that job properly then we have to consider what we are going to do in order to sort the situation out."

Ms Dunwoody's remarks followed the disclosure that Mr Blunkett gatecrashed a Christmas party of Labour MPs and insisted on singing the Fred Astaire number Pick Yourself Up.

One MP present said the rendition was received "flat as a pancake", even after Mr Blunkett had distributed song sheets in advance.

Other Westminster gossips said a senior Cabinet minister said of the Home Secretary after he left the gathering: "Thank God he's gone."

Tony Blair today had to endure taunts and questions about Mr Blunkett for the second week running at Prime Minister's Question Time.

The Prime Minister was offered a copy of the Stephen Pollard biography of Mr Blunkett by Tory leader Michael Howard for Christmas "holiday reading".

"Will you promise to read it carefully so that when you come back to the House you can give a full explanation of your Government's total failure to deliver?" he demanded.

Mr Howard tossed the book on to the table separating the two leaders. After question time, as Mr Blair left the chamber, Tory MPs teased him by shouting: "Your book! Don't forget the book!"

Mr Blair smiled, but a clearly fuming Ms Armstrong strode to the table, picked up the book, crossed the floor towards the Tory front bench and threw it at astonished Tory international development spokesman Alan Duncan.

Earlier in the Commons, Mr Blair faced a question over the latest claims that Mr Blunkett helped his former lover Kimberly Quinn's Filipina nanny Leoncia Casalme get a visa for a visit to Austria.

Tory MP John Taylor asked: "Will Sir Alan Budd's inquiry be extended to include the latest allegations regarding the second visa for travel to Austria?"

Sir Alan is already investigating claims that Mr Blunkett "fast-tracked" the nanny's application to stay in Britain.

Mr Blair replied: "That is a matter for Sir Alan."

Many Labour MPs, including ministerial aides, are now struggling to maintain the Government line that Mr Blunkett is able to carry on performing his duties while locked in his bitter paternity battle with Mrs Quinn over her son.

Mr Marshall-Andrews said: "The truth is that the Budd investigation is now assuming almost a secondary role...

"I think one is dealing here with somebody who it appears, certainly to many people in the Commons and the country, is quite seriously unbalanced."

The MP told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It is the Caligula principle really. Caligula made his horse a senator.

"He did it not because he thought his horse would be a good senator but because he wanted to demonstrate he could do what he wanted to do.

"Unfortunately that is becoming apparent with this Government."

A spokesman for Mr Blunkett confirmed that Mrs Quinn had spoken to him about Miss Casalme's visa application for Austria but denied that he had become involved in the case.

"Kimberly Quinn told the Home Secretary there was a problem with a visa for her nanny's trip to Austria. But neither the Home Secretary nor any of his officials became involved in the matter," the spokesman said.

Six unnamed senior Cabinet ministers tonight told London's Evening Standard that Mr Blunkett's future is in doubt.

One said: "We look very jaded and a bit shabby, it's like the Tories under John Major."