Gove is ignorant or lying: we can’t rip up future EU deal

by Hugo Dixon | 09.12.2017

Michael Gove is trying to calm Tory nerves over Theresa May’s capitulation in Brussels yesterday by saying we can diverge from any EU rules we don’t like. This is nonsense. The chief Brexit ayatollah either doesn’t know what he’s talking about or he’s being dishonest.

The prime minister’s deal spells out that the whole UK may have to agree to “full alignment” of a huge raft of our rules with those of the EU. That makes a mockery of the slogan “take back control”.

So how come Gove has signed up to it, describing it as a breakthrough in today’s Telegraph? How come Boris Johnson tweeted in wonderful doublespeak that “full alignment” means “taking back control”? How come, too, that the Daily Mail splashed across its front page: “Rejoice! We’re on our way”? One of the few Brexit extremists not going along with this charade is Charles Moore, the Telegraph columnist, who describes May’s deal as “complete capitulation”.

Gove is a clever man. He has jettisoned the mantra “no deal is better than a bad deal” because he knows that the British people will be so horrified at crashing out of the EU that no deal could mean no Brexit. He’s therefore desperate to get out before the voters realise what a ghastly mess they’ve signed up to.

Gove’s new mantra is “any deal is better than no deal” – and that means bending over backwards and giving the EU whatever it wants so long as we get regulatory freedom in the end. As he writes in his Telegraph column: “I’ve always believed that we should show the maximum flexibility in this negotiating phase so we can then exercise the maximum freedom as a nation at the end.”

Flaw in Gove Plan: Ireland

There’s one giant flaw in the Gove Plan: Northern Ireland. In order to keep the border with the Republic of Ireland open, the prime minister has had to agree “full alignment” of our rules with all those EU regulations relevant to North-South cooperation in Ireland and the Good Friday peace agreement. That’s quite a lot. In May’s “triumphant” deal yesterday, she acknowledged that “North-South cooperation relies to a significant extent on a common European Union legal and policy framework.”

What’s more, the prime minister has rightly promised the DUP, which is propping up her government, that there won’t be a sea border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

So how can Gove sign up to a policy that promises to turn us into eunuchs – meekly following EU rules ad infinitum without a say on them?

He pretends it will all be fine because we’ll end up with a deep and comprehensive free trade deal with the EU that will iron everything out – or, failing that, we’ll come up with some other magical solution.

But even Gove doesn’t have much confidence in all that. That’s why he writes that, after the two-year transition phase the government wants to cushion the blow of Brexit, we will have “full freedom to diverge from EU law on the Single Market and Customs Union.” He goes on to say: “By the time of the next election… if the British people dislike the arrangement that we have negotiated with the EU, the agreement will allow a future government to diverge.”

If Gove really believes this, he’s living on another planet. No way will the EU reach a future free trade deal with us that allows us to rip up whatever rules we don’t like.

But Gove is a clever man. So he probably doesn’t believe we can unilaterally vary a future treaty with the EU. He probably also knows, contrary to everything May says, that there’s no way we’ll have finished negotiations on a trade deal by the time of the next election. If so, Great Britain will indeed be free to diverge as much as it wishes from EU rules without breaking any treaty.

Will Tories ultimately shaft DUP?

Northern Ireland, though, is another matter. Dublin, backed to the hilt by the EU, is insisting that there is no hard border in Ireland whatever happens. Our prime minister has agreed to this in her triumphant deal. It says: “The commitments and principles outlined in this joint report… must be upheld in all circumstances, irrespective of the nature of any future agreement between the European Union and United Kingdom.”

What this means is that, come the next election, Great Britain can indeed go its own way on the rules but that Northern Ireland will not be free to – assuming, of course, that yesterday’s deal gets hardwired into a treaty. In other words, Gove could have a very devilish fallback plan: shaft Northern Ireland if push comes to shove.

But whatever you think about the DUP, it’s not stupid. It knows that after the next election, it’s unlikely to hold the balance of power in parliament. It’s not going to put itself in a position where some future government in London can sell it down the river.

Maybe Gove can persuade Johnson and other Tory Brexiters to keep shtum about what an awful deal May has done to avoid rocking the boat until it’s too late for the electorate to reverse course on Brexit. But will he be able to control the DUP when the government needs its votes to greenlight our divorce deal some time next year? If not, Arlene Foster, its leader, may become pro-Europeans’ unlikely pin-up.

Want more InFacts?

Click here to get the newsletter

Your first name (required)

Your last name (required)

Your email (required)

Choose which newsletters you want to subscribe to (required)
Daily InFacts NewsletterWeekly InFacts NewsletterBoth the daily and the weekly Newsletter

By clicking 'Sign up to InFacts' I consent to InFacts's privacy policy and being contacted by InFacts. You can unsubscribe at any time by emailing [email protected]

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

11 Responses to “Gove is ignorant or lying: we can’t rip up future EU deal”

  • Gove is the epitome of the post truth politician. Duplicitous, unprincipled and unscrupulous. He will literally say anything to further his personal agenda, so no surprise with his Orwellian newspeak and yes of course he will sell the DUP and anyone else down the river when the time comes.

  • The critics and journo’s are surprised that this deal with “regulatory alignment” has met with so much joy and satisfaction from the hard Brexiters. What they miss is how they’ve got their main demand. That is: KEEP THE FOREIGNERS OUT! SEND THE POLES AND ROMANIANS BACK HOME! SUPPORT AND CELEBRATE THE HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT!! After all, that’s what Cameron went to Brussels to ask for, and he was refused.

    Brexit always was an essentially racist project, and they have their racist result. And they’re very pleased about that. What’s not to like? (Unless you’re a foreigner, or liberal or worse, that is.)

  • I agree with Hugh Dixon’s assertion that the Irish situation denies any future UK parliament the freedom to bin whatever agreement May manages to negotiate. Despite his earnest manner and polite demeanour Gove is an absolute twerp. He does not seem to understand what has transpired this week – the belated recognition that the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, its entrenchment by referendum North and South and its registration at the UN as an international treaty removed the right of the UK (and Ireland for that matter) to secede unilaterally from EU standards – at least as far as the island of Ireland is concerned. The DUP have now succeeded (whether they really intended that or not) in extending this to the entire UK . It remains to be seen how precisely that situation is reflected in the rest of the negotiations but one thing is sure – no UK government can escape the fact that the Good Friday Agreement shackles the “taking back of full control” by not just this parliament but any British parliament elected to replace it.

  • Gove argues that it is the outcome of the application of our rules and regulations, not the rules themselves, which will have to align with those of the EU.
    Presumably, he means that we can pay many lawyers many millions to write a new set of (provably compatible) rules & regs for us so that we are (a) taking back control, (b) able to be more flexible in dealings with other countries.
    Before embarking on this mission I would ask him for Business Case for this task. I must say that this could be a first major task for an AI, knowing how this government likes to be technically aware and also that it is urgent need of a scapegoat.

  • Gove, Johnson, Hunt, May, and possibly others are being controlled by greed, manipulated by their billionaire supporters, with bribery. Their controllers want to be in control of which laws are British laws.
    The EU has released a Directive, against tax avoidance, which will become British Law in 2019, unless brexit goes ahead. Stopping that is what is driving all of them. That is why they are hell bent on the UK leaving the EU in March 2019, whatever the cost!
    Read this carefully: https://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/business/company-tax/anti-tax-avoidance-package/anti-tax-avoidance-directive_en

  • Eu has stitched up Dublin whilst pretending to support them. They will ship all the Boat Immigrants from Greece and Ireland as well as the surplus from places like Macedonia etc- by train to Cherbourg and Le Havre. Here Macron will set up Ferries to Ireland, EU will sanction as it gives a trade rout bypassing UK and use UK contribution to finance the operation. Marcon will transport all the refugees from Calais and Paris to same ports. They will all be given free 1 way tickets and 100 euro per person and be told this is the way into Britain- no border. When Ireland , many will stay, can ROI afford this or prepare for it? But many will move north to NI or over pond to UK. EU major problem solved in one go. Britain nor ROI can see it. Will not even have to pay smugglers!

  • If I was in business, I’d do all I could to avoid having to business with somebody such as Gove. You’d agree something, and 5 minutes later he’d be denying he agreed to anything.
    Besides being questionable sharp practice, it is also naive to think we can forget the EU or European countries , after Brexit. They are not going to go away, and how we as a country behave now, will very much colour their future dealings with us.

  • “Michael Gove […] either doesn’t know what he’s talking about or he’s being dishonest.”

    With respect to Hugo, Gove is, after all, a journalist.