The Corner

Re: Brexit

Jay, Michael Gove’s commendable decision to back Brexit is already being spun hard by the other side.

The Spectator’s James Forsyth has the details:

David Cameron and George Osborne have responded to Michael Gove’s decision to campaign for Out by saying that he has wanted to leave the EU for thirty years. But as Vote Leave are pointing out, Gove has not been an Outer for that long.

When he was a journalist, Gove was actually arguing that Britain should, ultimately, stay in the EU. In 1996, he wrote in The Times that ‘It is still in Britain’s interest to stay in the EU.’

So, why are Cameron and Osborne saying that Gove has been an Outer for thirty years? I suspect it is because they want to paint Gove’s belief that Britain should leave as purely ideological when, in fact, it has largely been driven by his experience in government and seeing just how much the EU and the ECJ constrained ministers’ freedom of action.

The Tory leadership need to tread carefully here. I suspect that the more that they try to define Gove—Cameron characterised him as the epitome of the establishment on Marr—the more that he will end up doing for the Out campaign.

Meanwhile, Cameron is finding it a touch difficult to rally the Tory party behind his dodgy deal.

In the Independent John Rentoul writes:

Instead of a small minority of Tory MPs arguing for Leave, it could well be half. The numbers are quite finely balanced: there are 330 Tory MPs, not including the Speaker, John Bercow. On Saturday the running tallies kept by Guido Fawkes and The Spectator had identified 142 of them as Outers. Some of them may be persuaded, as some of their Cabinet colleagues such as Sajid Javid have been. But some of the undeclared will join them – many of them are ministers and have so far been limited in what they can say. But it looks as if the Leave total will be close to half of the Parliamentary Conservative Party. That’s 165 MPs.

This is not how Cameron hoped it would be. He thought his party – and the country – was looking for excuses to stick with the status quo. Instead one of the unintended consequences of renegotiation has been to remind people who think of themselves as vaguely pro-EU of the things about EU membership that they don’t like. The European Parliament, the Brussels bureaucracy and Michael Gove telling us that “hundreds of new EU rules cross my desk, none of which were requested by the UK Parliament, none of which I or any other British politician could alter in any way”.

And (as we’re on the topic) if I may dissent from something you wrote about the referendum . . . 

By the way, I heard from quarters of the Right for a long time that Cameron would never deliver on his promise of an EU referendum. He has of course delivered.

Yes, there were many who did not believe that Cameron would deliver (he had, after all, resisted the idea of a referendum for a very long time), but for the most part it was because they thought (as I thought) that the Tories would lose the 2015 election, and thus would not be in a position to hold the referendum Cameron had promised.

The euroskeptic suspicion was not that Cameron would not deliver (double negative alert!) a referendum, but something more subtle. I described it at the end of a piece I wrote shortly after Cameron made his original promise in early 2013:

What, I suspect, [euroskeptics] anticipate is that . . . Cameron will be thrown a few scraps at the end of pantomime negotiations, which he will then declare to have been a triumph. This will set the stage for a referendum in which a misled, there-is-no-alternative British public will vote for the “yes” for which Cameron has already declared​ — ​an odd thing to do ahead of any negotiations ​— that he will campaign “heart and soul.”

That wasn’t so far off, I reckon.

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