Michael Gove hints at compromise on Government’s Brexit plans
Michael Gove has said the Government must do more to make sure it has the “maximum possible consensus” on its plans for Brexit in light of last week’s election result.
The Environment Secretary said the Government would engage in an “open conversation” – encompassing politicians of all parties and those outside the political process – about the UK’s departure of the European Union.
Mr Gove also hinted that the Conservatives would rethink their economic policies after the public expressed “legitimate concerns” about the funding of services.
The Vote Leave campaign leader was restored to the Cabinet by Theresa May at the weekend after the Conservatives lost their majority in the House of Commons.
The reverses have led to some within the Tories to call for changes to the plans set out by the Prime Minister before she triggered the two-year Article 50 window to leave the EU.
Mr Gove denied that the Government would “soften” its stance, but said the referendum result had to be “honoured in the right way”.
“We need to recognise that we as Conservatives were not returned with a majority and that means that we need to proceed with the maximum possible consensus and that we also need to ensure that the concerns of people who voted Remain… are part of our conversation,” he told Radio 4’s Today programme.
When pressed for specifics about whether it could include staying part of the customs union, Mr Gove refused to be drawn.
He said: “[Theresa May] made it clear that she was determined to honour the vote and to respect the results of the referendum. But of course there are a significant number of questions as we leave the European Union about the shape that we want our country to take.”
A report in today’s Telegraph claimed that Conservative ministers wanting a so-called “soft Brexit” were in talks with Labour MPs about how to work together to achieve their outcome.
In the same newspaper, former foreign secretary Lord Hague added his voice to calls for a cross-party Brexit commission to bring together voices across the political spectrum – something that has been floated previously by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and senior figures in Labour.
While not endorsing the commission as a mechanism, Mr Gove said he was relaxed about those outside the Government contributing to the Brexit plan.
“The most important thing is, if you want to proceed with the maximum possible support, that you engage in an open conversation,” he said.
“And in that open conversation what you don’t do is try to corral others into a particular position. You’re true to your principles, true to the referendum result but open in the way in which you engage.”
Mr Gove also admitted the Conservatives had “underestimated” the potency of Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity message in the election, which won the support of 40% of voters.
He said the Tories would now have to “reflect” on what the result meant for their plans for public services and their offer to young people.
“I think we underestimated the appeal of parts of Labour’s message,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
“One of the critical things that we have to take away from this is that we need to ensure… that, while not diluting what it is that we believe in as Conservatives, that we understand that people want to ensure that our public services are properly funded, that health and education matter hugely.
“And also that we need to look to the future, we need to look to the next generation’s concerns and that’s one of the reasons why I’m really looking forward to doing this job.”
He added on the Today programme: “There is an important balanced to be struck: we need to get on with the job of reducing the deficit so that we do not saddle the next generation with the burden of debt – and the larger the deficit, the more money that should be spent on health and education is actually spent on paying down debt.
“So yes, we absolutely need to ensure that public spending is kept at a level and in a way that is sustainable but we also need to take account of legitimate public concerns about ensuring that we properly fund public services in the future.”