As late as yesterday afternoon, Michael Gove was trying to persuade fellow Cabinet Ministers to back Boris Johnson. This morning, he announced that not only that he was running but that ‘Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead’. Hours later, Boris – reeling from this blow – announced that he would not be running.
Gove reportedly came to view Johnson as too unreliable and flaky, which is a curious justification for abandoning someone he supported at the last minute to pursue his own leadership bid. The remarkable thing about Gove’s decision is that it probably wrecks any chance he might have had at the leadership, and he has very likely delivered it into the hands of Theresa May, the Home Secretary, who was already a competitive candidate before Johnson dropped out. Most people inclined to back Johnson presumably view Gove as a traitor and not to be trusted, and that seems to be the case. Isabel Hardman reports:
It is fair to say after talking to a number of Boris supporters that some of them are currently so white hot with fury at what Gove has done in turning on his colleague at the last minute that there is little chance of them supporting the Justice Secretary’s campaign.
If we assume that May is the favorite to win the contest, it is worth considering her views on what should happen next. In her announcement speech, May made clear that she intends to follow through on the referendum’s result:
First, Brexit means Brexit. The campaign was fought, the vote was held, turnout was high and the public gave their verdict. There must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to re-join in through the back door and no second referendum. The country voted to leave the European Union and it is the duty of the Government and Parliament to make sure we do just that. Second, there should be no general election until 2020. There should be a normal Autumn Statement held in the normal way at the normal time and no emergency budget. And there should be no decision to invoke Article 50 until the British negotiating strategy is agreed and clear, which means Article 50 should not be invoked before the end of this year [bold mine-DL].
That last point will sit very poorly with EU leaders, who seem to want the process of British withdrawal to have started yesterday and aren’t interested in any further delays. Nonetheless, if May is serious about following through with leaving the EU that will at least provide some clarity about what the next government will try to do. May has a somewhat Euroskeptic reputation but was a supporter of Remain, and that could potentially make her a candidate acceptable to both factions in the party. Her announcement speech was full of praise for Cameron, so she isn’t positioning herself against him or his overall record, and that will probably also make her a better fit with members of the party that aren’t pleased that Cameron has gone. She struck a balance between being an advocate for Remain without having fallen into the alarmist nonsense that did that campaign so much harm:
Throughout I made clear that on balance I favoured staying inside the EU because of the economic risk of leaving, the importance of cooperation on security matters and the threat to the Union between England and Scotland. But I also said that the sky would not fall in if we left. I was open about the costs and the benefits and the risks and the opportunities of EU membership. So now the decision has been made, let’s make the most of the opportunities our departure presents and get out into the world and help British firms to do business all around the globe. Because the task in front of us is no longer about deciding if we should leave or remain. The country has spoken and the United Kingdom will leave the EU.
It remains to be seen if May can win the support of her party, but when compared with the clown acts of Johnson and Gove she certainly seems more credible and responsible than either of them.