Michael Gove was charged with updating the House on the Government’s Brexit strategy yesterday. Of course he was.
For years the Govester has been the Government’s man for big occasions. The closer, the ‘death’ bowler entrusted with the crucial last overs. Need to rally the troops? Send for Gove!
Under the previous lot this was no enviable task. Brisker trade has been done selling buckets of sand in the Sahara than flogging Theresa May’s hopeless Brexit strategy.
Now, at last, with a government prepared to go mano a mano with Brussels, the Cabinet minister was able to rev his engines. He twisted, he twirled, his peony-tinted cheeks glowed with enthusiasm. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he rather enjoyed himself.
Michael Gove (pictured) was charged with updating the House on the Government’s Brexit strategy yesterday. Of course he was. For years the Govester has been the Government’s man for big occasions, writes Henry Deedes
Mr Gove said the UK’s trade proposal was straightforward. We want the same deal South Korea and Canada already have in place.
The EU’s smoothy-chops negotiator Michel Barnier may moan that the UK is in closer proximity to the EU but, as Gove pointed out, ‘geography need not undermine democracy’. If the EU wants to dig its heels in, we should prepare to ditch negotiations in June.
Behind Gove, arch Eurosceptic skeletores, Owen Paterson (Con, North Shropshire) and Peter Bone (Con, Wellingborough) purred in agreement. Words such as ‘sovereignty’ and ‘autonomy’ lingered pleasingly under their nostrils like a fine Havana.
It was revealing that not a single Shadow Cabinet minister bothered to show up to respond to the statement.
If there were ever a time for Sir Keir Starmer’s forensic skills, this was surely it. But presumably he’d already headed north for last night’s Labour leadership debate.
Instead, the Opposition sent out a fellow called Paul Blomfield. No? Me neither, I’m afraid. Works with Sir Keir on the Brexit brief, apparently. He spoke of the need to keep the ‘closest possible relationship with our most important trading partner’, which is Remainer speak for ‘let’s not leave at all’.
The EU’s smoothy-chops negotiator Michel Barnier (pictured) may moan that the UK is in closer proximity to the EU but, as Gove pointed out, ‘geography need not undermine democracy’
Behind Blomfield, the Labour benches were largely silent bar the odd grumble or the ‘tap, tap, tap’ of fingers on phone keypads. Up in the public gallery, arch-Europhile Lord Mandelson’s ex-bag carrier Lord Liddle peered down glumly.
How muted the chamber felt compared to all of last year’s Brexit debates. No shouty Soubry, no whining Swinson. No Dominic Grieve, either, tossing legal pipe bombs down on to the front bench.
Were Speaker Bercow still in situ, he would have allowed members to grill Gove for hours. Here, Speaker Hoyle gave them just 45 minutes.
Even Hilary Benn (Lab, Leeds Central), one of Labour’s busiest anti-Brexit voices, was relatively subdued. He didn’t think a deal in ten months was achievable. Surprise, surprise.
Rupa Huq (Lab, Ealing Central and Acton) squawked about whether any waste-of-time Whitehall impact assessments had been done lately. Yawn, yawn.
Not once did Gove’s temperature ever rise above normal during these exchanges. Each query was treated with the deference of an unctuous courtier. ‘My honourable friend makes an excellent point,’ he would say, or ‘my honourable friend is bang on’. This only irritated his opponents further.
Now, at last, with a government prepared to go mano a mano with Brussels, Gove was able to rev his engines. He twisted, he twirled, his peony-tinted cheeks glowed with enthusiasm. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he rather enjoyed himself (Boris Johnson is pictured)
No more so than the Scots Nats, whose mutual loathing of Gove always makes for good sport. Pete Wishart (SNP, Perth & North Perthshire) described the statement as ‘bunkham, baloney and codswallop’.
What had the makings of an impassioned speech was ruined when Wishart described the UK as a ‘clown shoe’ which stood no chance ‘against the efficient, effective EU’.
Efficient? Effective? The Government bench collapsed in hysterics.
‘They’re laughing,’ Wishart complained to the Speaker. ‘It’s the way you tell ’em,’ snorted Iain Duncan Smith (Con, Chingford and Woodford Green).
Gove became embroiled in a particularly feisty exchange with Steven Bonnar (SNP, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill), who objected to his party being referred to as the ‘Scottish Nationalists.’
‘It’s Nationals!’ Bonnar wailed. ‘The reason they don’t like it is they dinnae like it up ’em!’ Gove responded with gusto.
Quite. Judging by the wobbly remarks coming out of Brussels this past week, Monsieur Barnier doesn’t like it much either.