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Gove would bring division, not unity

by Sam Ashworth-Hayes | 02.07.2016

Michael Gove’s leadership pitch portrays him as the man to keep Britain together. He has done more than almost anyone else to divide it.

The justice secretary says he wants Britain to be “known for its tolerance”. If he really wanted this, would he have led a campaign that gleefully exploited concerns over migration? Would he have written the Mail column that signalled the start of Vote Leave’s attack on Turkish accession, warning that the EU planned “to absorb this Muslim state”? Since the campaign there has been an up-tick in race-hate complaints.

Gove had warm words for “our United Kingdom”, insisting he would treat Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland “with respect”. For the Northern Irish facing the prospect of a hard border with the republic, this must seem like a joke. For Scottish unionists, who now face a resurgent separatist movement, Gove’s honeyed words about the place the union holds in his heart must also carry little weight.

His sympathy for those who are “flotsam and jetsam” on globalised flows of capital and people is equally unconvincing. In pledging to “end free movement”, he has essentially pledged withdrawal from the European single market and enormous economic damage. Northern voters who expect Brexit to bring them renewed prosperity are unlikely to be delighted by cuts to public spending

And while Nissan is unlikely to shut up shop in Sunderland overnight, the car giant and many companies like it came to Britain to get access to the single market. That investment could now be driven abroad.

Gove may not understand what his plans mean. After his speech, Gove said he did not “accept” that ending free movement “would be a case of lost prosperity”, ignoring the link between free movement and single market access. But if Gove truly believes there is no pain in store, would he have described the Chancellor’s decision to drop his surplus target as “sensible”? Surely as a Conservative who stood on a manifesto only a year ago promising to achieve this, he should stick to that goal.

He may be also playing with words. Gove said only that he wishes to “bring numbers down”, rather than repeating his previous pledge to bring migration “down to the tens of thousands”. When he says he wants to end free movement, he may mean some form of “emergency brake” that would allow us to stay in the single market.

This would hardly be unprecedented. Gove’s Brexiteer colleagues have become very coy about exactly what they promised on the campaign trail, regardless of the impression they allowed voters to take into the polling booth. Gove himself is not above this; he pledged to “give the NHS at least another £100 million per week by 2020”, a substantially smaller sum than the £350 million promised in a poster his organisation printed.

But if he intends to deliver on both his promise to end free movement and his assurance of a painless departure, Gove has set himself a task that makes the labours of Hercules look like a child’s paper round.

Gove did not respond to requests for comment

Edited by Hugo Dixon

3 Responses to “Gove would bring division, not unity”

  • It is time to warn people of dodgy reporting:

    BBC Interviewers have been asking people why they aren’t prepared to accept the outcome of the referendum in which “17.4 million people” voted out. This is a seriously flawed question. The actual majority is what matters – approximately 1.3 million. It should also be noted that the actual size of the electorate is of the order of 46.5 million – no exact figure seems to be availible – in the context of which there is nothing special about 17.4 million. (16.1 million voted in) Only the relative size of these figures matters, not their absolute values.

    It is also worth noting that it wouldn’t take many Brexiters to have second thoughts to reach stalemate or even reverse the result – according to the Independant, already some 1.2 million voters think they have made a mistake!

  • Brexit is highly damaging to the UK. An act of self-destruction with a vote fuelled by false promises, reckless and shameful disparagement of trusted experts and exploitation of peoples’ fears.

    Yes, Gove is unfit to be PM, lacking in so many ways. That’s obvious. He should not form any part of government.

    We need to start campaigning urgently for a second vote. Nobody will be duped again. The awful consequences for Britain are now clear for all to see. The world has looked on in disbelief at Britain’s act of self-destruction. There will be an overwhelming majority who want to remain. So we should give people the opportunity to express their view. That would be democracy in action.

    Is our country not worth the effort? Come on, let’s show some spirit!

    • Well said Dave,
      In cannot be democratic to press ahead with Brexit when the people who voted were told a pack of lies by Brexiteers.
      No wonder many are now saying they would have voted differently had they realised the consequences.
      Marvellous to see such a massive march yesterday to Remain. Let’s hope those responsible listen. We must keep up the fight.
      Margaret Daly