How can Michael Gove possibly defend staying in Cabinet?

by Hugo Dixon | 19.11.2018

Here’s a man who backed the prime minister’s miserable deal, then refused to become Brexit secretary because she didn’t let him renegotiate it. After that, instead of resigning from the Cabinet, he pretends that he will be in a position to improve the deal from the relatively lowly position of environment secretary. Has Michael Gove no shame?

Along with Boris Johnson, the Gove was the other top Tory responsible for guiding the Leave campaign to its victory in 2016. One might have thought he would relish the chance to be Brexit secretary after Dominic Raab resigned last week.

But no, he refused that job because Theresa May didn’t let him rejig her deal. If Gove had objected to the deal in the first place, he would have a point. But he didn’t. He spoke up for it in Cabinet while other Brexiters attacked it.

So why then did he refuse to become Brexit secretary? Presumably because he knows that his reputation with the Conservative grassroots members, which has already been tarnished because he supported the prime minister’s Chequers plan in the summer, would be further trashed. And he can’t get too unpopular if he is ever to have a chance of getting into Downing Street.

Write to your MP to
demand a People's Vote


One might have thought that Gove would then at least have had the honour to resign. But no, he didn’t do that either. Presumably he realises he already has a reputation as a backstabber, after he knifed Johnson immediately after the referendum. To attack the prime minister now would reinforce the view that he could never be trusted.

By staying in the Cabinet, Gove can pretend to be loyal. Except, of course, that he isn’t. He is coordinating with other Brexiters a scheme to get May to change her deal – or, at least, they are briefing to the media that this is what they are up to.

If Gove thought there was any realistic chance of renegotiating the deal, he would be in a far better place to do that from the position of Brexit secretary than the environment job. All of which suggests that he may not be trying to change the deal at all – merely grabbing headlines to deflect criticism from hardline Brexiters that he has sold out.

This may also explain why his buddy, Nick Boles, is pushing the “Norway for Now” idea, seemingly with Gove’s blessing. The scheme would involve the UK staying in the single market (like Norway) for several years before flipping to a Canada-style arrangement.

It is a devious plan designed to appeal to both hardline Brexiters and soft ones. But it is also a hopeless one, as neither the EU nor Norway would agree to it. Maybe Gove knows that too. If so, it is just a device to get him into Downing Street.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

8 Responses to “How can Michael Gove possibly defend staying in Cabinet?”

  • I rather think the Gove understands that this is to be his last time as a member of parliament . He stays close to cabinet to enable him to make dubious deals for his days to come in the city.

  • I don’t trust Gove at all. She should never have offered him a post in the cabinet after the farcical episode with Johnson in 2016. He lives in the 1950s and his interference in education post 2010 has sentenced the nation’s children to rote learning and essay writing. My eight year old grandson has to do clause analysis which is pointless and boring! Bound to put them off wanting to learn. Time Gove went away. Shocking man who is pompous and holier than everyone else. However, I fear his objective is No 10.

  • Gove is probably too disliked to become PM. A more sensible candidate to aim for No 10 would be a Tory remainer. Then they could oppose Jeremy Corbyn with his dogged Euroscepticism, giving some semblance of normality to British politics.

  • If May is supposed to be supporter of a so-called soft Brexit, I don’t understand why she appoints out and out hardline Brexiteers to the Brexit Minister post.
    Don’t know much about Barclay, except he voted for Brexit.

    I certainly hope he’s better than Raab. Besides his incredibile naivity about the significance of the Dover Calais route, he came across as arrogant.
    His attitude towards British expats in Europe was appalling, not bothering to meet the main expat group or even reply to their correspondence. He even stated, “forgive me if I don’t keep a laser like focus on the substance (of citizens rights).”

    And if he is now blaming the EU for bullying, what was he doing about it when he was there as Brexit Minister conducting the negotations?

  • For those of us who would like to see Brexit fail Gove is an ideal choice for Brexit minister’s position. Gove has made a career of failing in every ministry he has been appointed to and it beggars belief that he is still a member of the cabinet at all!

    His specialities of truth distortion, lies, back stabbing and mudslinging have served him well, however, but as a life’s goal it lacks appeal to most fair minded people. He will hang on to his place in cabinet for as long as it is useful for Murdoch that he remains. Every billionaire likes to have a fly on the wall where important decisions are being made and Murdoch no doubt has more than one in May’s cabinet (not counting May herself).

  • His plans as Environment Secretary are pretty good. He’s in a good place to reap the benefits of Brexit for our countryside. I’m glad he stayed in that job.

  • Michael Gove’s journalistic pedigree is toxic in relation to Northern Ireland as demonstrated in his pamphlet ‘Northern Ireland the price of peace where he has been credited with the declaration that the Good Friday Agreement was comparable to the appeasement of the Nazis and the condoning of desires of pedophiles. The holding of such opinions at any point of one’s career should surely disqualify from any senior position of government, let alone aspiring to the position of PM.