With Boris and six Cabinet Minister backing Out alongside close to half of the parliamentary party, it is impossible to claim that the Tory party is largely behind this deal. This will have a knock on effect on Tory voters. Another consequence of the fact that Boris and Michael Gove are both backing Out is that businessmen, celebrities and donors will feel free to back leaving the EU without it looking like a UKIP endorsement.
Earlier this month, the Leave campaign had already taken the lead in polling over Remain. These high-profile statements of support for withdrawal from leading Tories can only hurt Cameron’s effort to keep the U.K. in the EU. They show once again just how deep and significant the longstanding rift in the party over Europe has been and continues to be. The overall lead for “Leave” was nine points at the start of the month, and among Conservative voters it was 18. There is broad support for remaining in the EU among Labour and Liberal Democrat voters, but even in those parties there are sizable minorities (26% in both parties) that want to leave. UKIP voters are naturally almost unanimously in favor of leaving.
Michael Gove made the case for leaving the EU yesterday. He emphasized that people in Britain should be able to govern themselves and continued membership in the EU makes that practically impossible:
My starting point is simple. I believe that the decisions which govern all our lives, the laws we must all obey and the taxes we must all pay should be decided by people we choose and who we can throw out if we want change. If power is to be used wisely, if we are to avoid corruption and complacency in high office, then the public must have the right to change laws and Governments at election time.
But our membership of the European Union prevents us being able to change huge swathes of law and stops us being able to choose who makes critical decisions which affect all our lives. Laws which govern citizens in this country are decided by politicians from other nations who we never elected and can’t throw out.
Gove’s case for “Brexit” seems fairly persuasive, and it hits on the main political deficiencies of the EU: the lack of accountability for the political class that governs it and the lack of popular consent to their rule. If the EU is increasingly perceived as illegitimate by the people in its member states, it is just a matter of time before those states that can afford to leave will do so. Framing withdrawal from the EU as the reclamation of enduring British political traditions is a savvy move, and one that will likely have broad appeal.
The referendum has been set for June 23, and right now “Brexit” is looking more likely than not.