Michael Gove in swipe at Tory rival Boris Johnson over 'vassal state' comment

Posted On: 
5th June 2019

Michael Gove has launched a thinly-veiled attack on rival Boris Johnson as he hit out at claims Theresa May's Brexit deal would have left the UK a “vassal state” of the EU.

Michael Gove and Boris Johnson
PA Images

The Environment Secretary - who is running against Mr Johnson to be Tory leader - said it “demeans language” to use such terms as he hit out at Brexiteers who accuse others of being “traitors”.

Mr Johnson became one of the most outspoken critics of the Prime Minister's deal - which would have maintained close economic with the EU after Brexit - after he quit as Foreign Secretary last year.

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He said the Withdrawal Agreement, which Mr Gove repeatedly voted for - would have left the UK a "vassal state" of the EU, meaning it would have been left a servant of the bloc.

At an event organised by The Spectator, an audience member repeated the phrase as they questioned the top Cabinet minister.

But Mr Gove said the term was only “appropriate for countries occupied by foreign powers”.

“It demeans language to use words like vassal state,” he said.

And he added: “You are not a traitor if you disagree with me about Europe, you are a patriot who expresses a different point of view.”


Elsewhere, Mr Gove confirmed that he would be willing to delay the 31 October Brexit deadline by "days or weeks" if it was necessary to secure a deal.

"Are we going to let an arbitrary deadline be the determinate of what a good deal is?” he asked.

His position is in marked contrast to a number of his leadership rivals, including Mr Johnson, who have said the October deadline must not be extended. 

But he insisted a no-deal Brexit must be "contemplated" if leaving with a deal appears impossible as 31 October looms.