EXCL Top grassroots Tory says Michael Gove likely to lose leadership race over Brexit extension pledge
Michael Gove has probably torpedoed his hopes of winning the Tory leadership election by admitting he was prepared to delay Brexit again in order to clinch a deal, a leading party activist has said.
Dinah Glover, the chair of London East Conservatives who tabled a no-confidence motion in Theresa May that threatened to bring the Prime Minister down, told PoliticsHome the Environment Secretary was “making a huge mistake”.
Mr Gove told a Spectator event on Wednesday that he would be willing to delay the 31 October deadline by “a matter of days or weeks” if a Brexit deal is close to being clinched.
The Environment Secretary, who has vowed to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement, including the controversial Northern Irish backstop, is the only candidate to explicitly say he could delay the UK's departure from the EU.
He said the current deadline was “arbitrary” - although he vowed to quit the EU without a deal rather than overturning the result of the 2016 referendum.
But Ms Glover said: “This deadline just keeps wandering off into the future somewhere - Alice in Wonderland style.
"I don’t know where Michael Gove has been over the past few months, because this will be the third deadline that we have missed, and we know that any extension only benefits the EU.”
Ms Glover argued that the EU will fail to offer better terms to the UK until it believes a Prime Minister will deliver a no-deal Brexit, and would be unlikely to agree to a short extension.
She said Mr Gove was “not facing reality” and was “clearly positioning himself with the wrong side of the divide” in the Leave-Remain debate.
Asked whether Mr Gove could see him triumph if he wins through to the ballot of Conservative members, she said: “I wouldn't have thought so.
"Of course it depends who the other candidate is, but if the other candidate isn’t a solid Brexiteer then God help the Conservative Party.”
Ms Glover was behind the motion of no confidence that was tabled in Mrs May and was due to be voted on by the National Conservative Convention on 15 June.
But it was ditched when she announced two weeks ago that she was standing down.
Meanwhile, Philip Sargar, the vice-chair of the Grantham Conservatives Association who oversaw a vote of no confidence in MP Nick Boles, said members would be “very upset” at the plan by Mr Gove.
“He probably hasn’t helped himself, which is a shame, because Michael is a good orator and a clever man and probably is somebody who could perhaps negotiate a better deal,” he told PoliticsHome.
Elsewhere, Eithne Webber, the chair of the East Surrey Conservatives Association, where pro-Remain Tory MP Sam Gyimah has faced deselection attempts, said the rise of the Brexit Party did not bode well for Mr Gove.
“Looking at what happened in the European elections, and looking at what may well happen in Peterborough today, if the bookies are correct, would seem to imply that people want to leave and they feel let down,” she explained.
“They were promised that we would leave on March 29 and we haven’t. And now we are being told… that we must leave by October 31.
“It would be difficult to sell any extension of that unless there are amazingly compelling reasons to do so.”
But she noted that whether or not the extension proposal by Mr Gove would damage his chances would depend which other candidate makes the final two, and whether the voters are more pro-Leave or pro-Remain.
The Tory membership is overwhelmingly supportive of quitting the EU, while at the moment Mr Gove is the second favourite to win after Boris Johnson, who has vowed to take the UK out of the bloc on 31 October deal or no deal.