Michael Gove: I would vote to leave the EU

The education secretary has reportedly told friends that the UK has to be ready to threaten to leave the EU.

The Mail on Sunday has splashed today on the revelation that Michael Gove has apparently told friends that if a referendum were to be held, he would vote to take the UK out of the EU:

It's a bold headline, but inside the story is a bit softer - Gove has apparently told "close allies" that Britain needs to be ready to threaten to leave the EU altogether if it is going to renegotiate our relationship successfully.

Simon Walters says this intervention by the education secretary is part of an "anti-EU pincer movement" by Gove and Cameron. The latter is due to announce a pull-back from some EU justice measures later this mornth, Walters says.

On the face of it, "Tory cabinet minister doesn't like the EU" is hardly an earth-shaking revelation.

What's interesting, though, is that Tim Montgomerie of ConservativeHome says:

My estimation is that at least eight Tory Cabinet ministers would privately sign up to exactly that view.

If Montgomerie is right (and he often is about such things) and Gove is just one of a number of senior Tories having these thoughts, this story takes on a whole new dimension. Parliament returns tomorrow, so the next month or so will be an interesting one for the future of the UK's relationship with the EU.

Will the Lib Dems have anything to say about this?

Michael Gove during this year's Conservative Party conference. Photograph: Getty Images

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.