Don’t fall for Gove’s single market manoeuvres

by Hugo Dixon | 02.08.2018

Why exactly is Michael Gove toying with the idea that the UK should stay in the single market post-Brexit? Isn’t he a Brexit extremist? And isn’t it anathema to hardline Brexiters to remain in the European Economic Area (EEA) – accepting free movement of people, paying money and following all the EU’s rules without any vote on them?

Gove, now the most senior Brexiter in the Cabinet after Boris Johnson and David Davis quit last month, has privately discussed a plan that would keep the UK in the single market if Theresa May’s Brexit strategy fails, according to the FT. This chimes with what a senior Tory told me last week.

The environment secretary raised the possibility at a dinner with Tory MPs and peers on June 25, before the Cabinet agreed the prime minister’s unloved Chequers’ plan. His allies told the FT he was simply exploring different scenarios and “wasn’t advocating the EEA”.

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So what is Gove up to? One theory is that he is manoeuvring to replace Theresa May if she can’t reach a deal with the EU or can’t get MPs to back a deal. He would plunge a knife between her shoulder blades as he did to Johnson just after the referendum – and then promise to unite Brexiters and pro-Europeans in the Tory Party by promising the single market as an option.

As stated, this idea seems fanciful. But a variation on the theme, advocated by Paul Goodman, on Conservative Home last month might just be a runner. This involves parking the UK in the EEA for four years after Brexit – after which we would go for a Canada-style trade deal with the EU or, failing that, rely on World Trade Organisation terms.

Such a proposal might just work to Gove’s advantage. After all, Tory Brexit extremists might think they would eventually get the hard Brexit they salivate over; while soft Brexiters might think four years would turn into six and then eight and, before you know it, we would stay in the EEA forever. What’s more, by kicking the can until, say, 2023, the day of reckoning over just how ghastly a hard Brexit is would be delayed until after the next general election, helping the Tories win it.

There are, though, many problems with such a scheme. Even if the other EU countries accepted it, they would insist on an all-weather “backstop” to keep the Irish border open after the four years come to an end.

This would be a sword of Damocles hanging over us, as Davis said after he resigned. Unless the government was then prepared to create a border in the Irish Sea, it wouldn’t be able to go for a hard Brexit without tearing up its Withdrawal Agreement with the EU. That, as I explained on InFacts last month, could be even more traumatic than crashing out next year with no deal.

Another problem is that such a plan would attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of voters until it was too late. It would be a dishonest Brexit. If this is what Gove is scheming, it must be stopped.

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6 Responses to “Don’t fall for Gove’s single market manoeuvres”

  • These masters of deception will use all of their many dirty tricks to confuse and manipulate the voting public. Don’t forget that they are not short of cash either and just need to be creative about how to put it to use without drawing too much attention to it.

  • Yes exactly it Gove is thinking only of himself – he is trying to appear nice to build up his environmentalist credentials at the moment. He is now trying to become a “softer Brexiteeer” but it is all a facade. It is all about trying to get the top job. The guy is a liar and happy to stab whoever it is necessary to stab to get into Number 10. Do not trust him one bit. Him an BoJo are traitors to this nation.

  • Never has the stock of Tory politicians been lower in this country. Self interested, privileged and totally untrustworthy. Gove has already done untold damage to this country by wrecking the education system (effectively privatising it) and imposing a school curriculum that takes us back to the 1950s. His ‘reforms’ have crushed critical thinking in our schools and put the emphasis on factual recall. Youngsters are bored and stressed out of their heads. Gove is clueless but also dishonest and dangerous and the thought of him getting involved in the Brexit mess is extremely worrying.

  • If the country is going to abandon Brexit, for which there now seems to be a clear majority, we don’t have to waste time in the EEA. Drop Brexit in the next 6 months, as the damage it will cause becomes ever clearer.

  • Into this murky mix should be added the strength of Gove’s ties to that most right wing media outlet, oh yes the Daily….?

  • My biggest concern with this plan is the author behind it. Gove is a driving force behind wanting the hardest of Brexit’s, so you can be 99% certain any plan for EEA membership is purely for tactical reasons. The magical date for Brexiteers is 29th March 2019, so once that date is reached, they will have a much freer hand to force a fully blown Hard Brexit.
    I actually don’t have too many problems with EEA membership as it would preserve our tarriff free, overbureaucratic access to the Single Market and remove so many of the barriers and complications for individuals wanting to move around Europe. It’s down sides are the membership fee and the lack of our input into EU policy making. However, it would be in the EU’s interest to strike a reasonable package and fee for the UK given the win-win all round, and it has not stopped countries like Norway (or Switzerland if the EFTA model were chosen) from prospering. Obvioulsy this would be second best to full EU membership, but I think the EEA or EFTA would have extra clout with a country our size as part of it.