I’m your best Brexit man: Michael Gove makes his pitch
Environment secretary says his vision and grip on state departments makes him a better bet against Jeremy Corbyn
Michael Gove has declared that he is the best candidate to take on Jeremy Corbyn, talking up his own role in the Leave campaign and claiming he will seize control of the machinery of government to deliver Brexit.
The environment secretary is telling MPs that he is a “unity” candidate with the “vision” and proven “grip” over government departments that will enable him to secure the UK’s departure from the UK and reverse the Conservatives’ decline in the polls.
Gove, whom supporters expect to publicly announce his candidacy this evening, told a private dinner of MPs last week that while Boris Johnson was the main face of the Vote Leave campaign, he was entrusted with some of the highest-pressure television debates which would also feature in a general election.
His pitch was also focused on how he had run three government departments since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, contrasting his experience leading education, justice and environmental reforms with that of other candidates.
Johnson, whose 2016 leadership campaign ended when Gove quit as campaign manager to launch his own bid, ran the foreign office for two years, while Dominic Raab, the former Brexit secretary, was in Cabinet for four months.
Gove would become the fourth Cabinet minister to announce a bid to succeed May when she steps down as Tory leader on June 7, following similar declarations by Jeremy Hunt, Rory Stewart, and Matt Hancock.
In other developments
• Liz Truss, the chief secretary of the treasury, ruled herself out of the contest, telling The Sunday Telegraph that she had decided to back a candidate who supported Brexit in 2016 and is prepared to champion a “modern Conservative free-market agenda”.
• Esther McVey, the former work and pensions secretary who has declared her candidacy, stated in The Telegraph that she would lead a “clean-break” Brexit on October 31, unless the EU approaches the UK the “to make a better offer” – a pledge likely to pile pressure on Johnson and Gove amid a battle for support from Brexiteer Tories.
• Truss and McVey, together with Priti Patel and Sir Graham Brady, who are both now considering standing, all warn that the Conservatives will be destroyed if the next leader fails to take the UK out of the EU by the end of October, the latest date agreed with the EU.
• Hunt pitched himself as the only candidate to have started their own business, which he sold for millions of pounds. “I will use my experience to negotiate the best possible Brexit deal both in terms of exit and future trade relationship,” he told one MP.
Tens of thousands of new members have joined the Conservatives in the past year, swelling the electorate that will choose Theresa May’s successor to 160,000.
Supporters expect Gove to declare his candidacy during an appearance at the Hay Festival, where he will take part in a BBC Radio 4 event hosted by Nick Robinson.
Gove laid out his pitch to about 10 MPs at a private dinner on Tuesday at the home of Mel Stride, the new Leader of the Commons, who is helping to drum up support for his campaign. He has been targeting pro-EU and Leaver MPs after losing support from many Brexiteers as a result of backing May’s plans.
One of those present said: “His pitch was that he could provide unity, vision and grip. He spoke of how he had run three government departments and done exciting things in all of them. It was a put-down to Raab and Boris.”
Another MP said: “He didn’t criticise the other potential candidates but he was setting out his case having been a very active, reforming Cabinet member.” The MP added: “He said he was entrusted to do the high-pressure television debates in the referendum campaign, as he would have to do in a general election”.
Gove was said to have pointed out that the Vote Leave campaign entrusted him with facing grillings from members of the public such as in a Sky News debate chaired by Faisal Islam.
The comments appeared to counter arguments that Johnson, who also served two terms as mayor of London, is the party’s best campaigner and therefore its best prospect at beating Corbyn in a general election.
“I’ve also been part of a winning campaign team,” Gove said.
“It was very much a ‘I am the best Brexiteer pitch’”, according to one of the MPs.
Meanwhile, four senior Tories today warn that the party risks obliteration if it fails to deliver Brexit by the new departure date of October 31.
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, McVey, who was the first backbencher to announce a leadership bid, on May 9, states: “This country needs a genuinely bold, new approach. So we must now leave the EU on 31st October with a clean break. If the EU wants to come back to the UK to make a better offer, I will listen, but we must now all get ready to leave under World Trade Organisation terms at the end of October.”
She adds: “We must leave on 31st October. If not we would let down hard-working people and our communities by fatally wounding the Conservative party and needlessly putting it out of office for a generation. Nigel Farage may have caught the mood of the moment but only a strong and united Conservative Party can beat Jeremy Corbyn.”
In an interview, Truss states: “It is absolutely critical that we deliver Brexit by October 31. I think it’s ‘game over’ for us if we don’t do that.”
She also calls for a radical programme of tax cuts and deregulation to help boost the economy in the event of a no-deal Brexit, and says the Conservatives should cut the top rate of tax in any scenario.
Truss says that only a candidate who supported Brexit in 2016 can now “command public trust”.
Hunt, Hancock and Sajid Javid, the home secretary, who is also preparing a leadership bid, all backed Remain in 2016.
Also speaking to this publication, Patel says: “This isn’t a case of just coming up with another date post-October 31. The public, as I see it, they they want full fat Brexit. We have to deliver and do exactly what we said we would do. I don’t want to be a political observer, to see my party just disintegrate and not get back out there and fight for what we believe in.”
Downing Street is preparing a series of policy announcements on issues such as schools, mental health, and the “burning injustices” May pledged to tackle when she became prime minister.
Ahead of his public appearance, MPs including Nick Gibb, the schools minister, and Bob Neill, the chairman of the justice committee, backed Gove on social media.
Withdrawing from Johnson’s 2016 campaign, Gove said he had “come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead”.
One of the MPs at the dinner said he repeated those concerns while also “implying that Boris had moved forward on that now”.
In an interview last week, Gove praised Johnson’s “flair, distinction and intellect”.
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2019)