Theresa May forced into embarrassing climbdown on fixed-odds betting terminals

‘I think they were quite surprised, although they shouldn’t have been because I told them this was going to be the outcome,’ said Tracey Crouch, who resigned from government over the issue

Gamblers currently have the potential to rack up huge losses within a matter of minutes using FOBTs
Gamblers currently have the potential to rack up huge losses within a matter of minutes using FOBTs

Theresa May has been forced into an embarrassing climbdown as ministers announced they would bring forward curbs to tackle highly addictive fixed-odd betting terminals in the face of considerable opposition from MPs and campaigners.

It follows Tracey Crouch’s resignation from her ministerial position over the contentious issue two weeks ago, claiming the government had delayed the imposition of stricter rules on the gambling machines by six months until October 2019.

The U-turn was announced on a crucial day for Ms May’s government as she attempts to secure the backing of her cabinet around a Brexit deal reached with negotiators in Brussels on Tuesday.

More than 70 MPs from across the Commons had tabled changes to the Finance Bill in a bid to reduce the largest sum payable in the machines, known as FOBTs, from £100 to £2 in April 2019 – rather than October.

A vote had been expected to take place in the Commons next week with the campaign in the chamber being led by the former work and pensions secretary Ian Duncan Smith, Labour’s Carolyn Harris and the SNP’s Ronnie Cowan.

Several former Conservative cabinet ministers had backed the move, including Boris Johnson, David Davis, Priti Patel, Justine Greening and Sir Michael Fallon.

According to The Times newspaper, around a dozen ministerial aides were prepared to resign unless the prime minister backed down over the machines – described by critics as the “crack cocaine of gambling”.

Speaking in the Commons on Wednesday in response to a question from Mr Duncan Smith, the prime minister acknowledged the “strength of feeling” on the issue, adding: “I know gambling addiction can devastate lives.”

In a written ministerial statement – published after prime minister’s questions – Jeremy Wright, the culture secretary, said: “The government has been clear that protecting vulnerable people is the prime concern, but that as a responsible government it is also right to take the needs of those employed by the gambling industry into account and provide time for an orderly transition.

“Parliament has, however, been clear that they want this change to be made sooner. The government has listened and will now implement the reduction in April 2019.

“The government will expect the gambling industry to work with it to reduce the effect of any impact on jobs and to support employees that may be affected by this expedited timeline. The cross-government group that has been set up is ready to assist.”

Ms Crouch had earlier told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme she had been told the implementation of the £2 cut would be brought forward to April, claiming it was down to the “sheer pressure” on the government from MPs and others.

She added: “I think they were quite surprised, although they shouldn’t have been because I told them this was going to be the outcome.”

Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson said the move showed the “disastrous political judgement” of both the chancellor Philip Hammond and Mr Wright.

“It’s very sad that it took an honourable resignation of a good minister and a cross-party revolt to achieve the blindingly obvious and necessary reforms to fixed-odd betting terminals,” he said.

The shadow culture secretary continued: “Whilst this is personally humiliating for Jeremy Wright, this is a very good day for the many thousands of people whose families and communities are blighted by gambling addiction.”

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