I am a big fan of Michael Gove. I admire his conviction, the principled nature of his politics and the sheer passion that drives him. Despite this, I firmly believe that he is absolutely not the right person to lead the country out of the European Union. If we were in need of a general to fight the hated enemy, then Gove would be the man. He is radical and will pursue his aims zealously, but his strengths are now his weaknesses and those traits I most respect render him unsuitable for the job at this crucial time.
The EU is not our enemy. We must now open amicable discussions with our allies and lay the foundations of our future relationship in the spirit of good faith. For the good of all of Europe we need compromise and pragmatism. There have been promising signs that we are being offered an olive branch by key figures; we need someone who will grasp it with both hands, not someone who will take that branch and beat them with it.
I’m a totally committed Brexiteer but I do not believe it necessarily beneficial to have a Brexiteer who is openly hostile to the EU leading negotiations with it. Gove has spent months spouting anti-EU diatribes and has even hinted at a desire to see the EU break up, he has therefore already started off on the wrong foot with those who will sit on the opposite side of the table.
Throughout the referendum campaign he was articulate and spoke with a moderate tone; he came across well to the general viewer. However, those in the know could see how badly briefed he was. He spoke of a mythical “free trade zone stretching from Iceland to Turkey that all European nations have access to”; there is no such thing, if only there was. This is the Vote Leave fudge which helped them dishonestly muddle through the campaign but we are now in a very serious situation and the last thing we need is for the Vote Leave ethos to continue by proxy.
He has now said that he will end free movement and introduce an “Australian-style points system” as well as diverting membership fees to the NHS. Gove is the Vote Leave candidate with a Brexit manifesto inspired by his trusted adviser Dominic Cummings; the man who still thinks that unilaterally breaking our Treaty obligations by repealing the 1972 European Communities Act instead of invoking Article 50 is a viable idea. To be clear, it would be a political and economic disaster. Invoking Article 50 is the only legal means of leaving the EU and the only method that leads to a negotiated settlement. This is the kind of ignorance about the EU being whispered into Gove’s ear for months.
Cummings was responsible for much of the dishonesty of the Vote Leave campaign which is now blowing back in their face and damaging the whole Leave campaign by association. He has spoken out against the Single Market while seemingly knowing very little about it. He ranted against the 2001 Clinical Trials Directive, apparently oblivious that it is in the process of being replaced by the 2014 Clinical Trials Regulation. He has been obsessed with the Procurement Directive, with no understanding of its roots in the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement. He has bizarrely defined the Single Market as including the Schengen area and the euro. We do not want a prime minister who, on the basis of this ignorance, pulls us out of the Single Market and thereby rejects a sensible, staged secession.
Michael Gove has denied that Cummings will be straight into Downing Street should be prime minister, but then he also denied wanting to be prime minister. Either way, this is the man he has had closely advising him for years. In the aftermath of the vote the lies of his campaign, and his deliberate rejection of post-referendum planning is unfairly damaging the credibility of Leave and feeding the Remain backlash.
Seceding from the EU is grown up politics that needs informed expertise and moderate thinking. We have to accept that leaving the EU is going to be a long process, we cannot achieve everything at once and that we must compromise to get a settlement. Whatever agreement we reach will be a transitional arrangement and a platform to build on; I have serious doubts about Michael Gove understanding and accepting this wholeheartedly.
The Gove negotiating strategy has been set out; he is prepared to put our economy at serious risk in exchange for an immediate end to free movement. With Gove as prime minister the EEA option is dead. The majority of leavers voted on the issue of self-governance and the vast majority of remainers voted out of concern for the economy. The EEA option is a settlement to reconcile these differences and resolve the Northern Irish question, the Gibraltar problem and ease the concerns of Scotland.
If we want to be in a “free trade zone” in Europe it is the European Economic Area or nothing; and that is why Michael Gove is a real threat to an economically secure transition out of the EU. We can try and begin negotiations over a bespoke trade agreement but there is very little chance of reaching a conclusion within two years and very serious economic and political consequences for the UK and the eurozone if we fail.
We need a candidate who will be firm but understands the necessity of compromise. This is a time for pragmatists willing to work with our European partners on a strategy of transition management. This is not a time for ideologues and zealots.
Follow Ben on Twitter: @thescepticisle