Michael Gove to stand for Conservative party leadership

Michael Gove interview

Michael Gove is to stand for the Conservative leadership, saying he does not believe Boris Johnson has the necessary leadership skills to lead the country.

In a statement released just before Johnson and the other frontrunner for the post, Theresa May, formally announced their candidacies, Gove said the EU referendum result had shown the British people “want and need a new approach to running this country”.

Gove who has repeatedly denied he wants to be prime minister, said he had originally wanted to get behind Johnson’s bid for the leadership.

“I have repeatedly said that I do not want to be prime minister. That has always been my view. But events since last Thursday have weighed heavily with me,” he said.

“I respect and admire all the candidates running for the leadership. In particular, I wanted to help build a team behind Boris Johnson so that a politician who argued for leaving the European Union could lead us to a better future.

“But I have come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead.”

He said he had therefore decided to put his name forward for the leadership.
“I want there to be an open and positive debate about the path the country will now take. Whatever the verdict of that debate I will respect it. In the next few days I will lay out my plan for the United Kingdom, which I hope can provide unity and change,” he said.

Gove had been expected to be part of a joint ticket with Johnson, most likely to become chancellor or foreign secretary in the event of victory.

Andrea Leadsom, another prominent voice from Vote Leave, also confirmed she was standing for the leadership in a tweet sent within minutes of Gove’s announcement.

“Delighted to say I’m running for the Conservatives Leadership,” the energy minister tweeted. “Let’s make the most of the Brexit opportunities! #FreshStart.”

Johnson and May begin their campaigns on Thursday morning. May, the home secretary, will be the first to make her ambitions known in a speech at around 9.30am, saying the UK needs to be “a country that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us”.

Johnson, who was widely considered the frontrunner after leading the leave campaign, will make his own declaration at around 11.30am – just half an hour before the deadline for nominations closes.

One of the key issues for both will be finding a balance between controls on EU nationals coming to the UK, while keeping some access to the single market in goods and services.

France’s finance minister, Michel Sapin, has said freedom of movement will be “on the table” in negotiations, even in discussions over single market access. But speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday morning, a key ally of Angela Merkel said the two could not happen together.

Peter Altmaier, head of the federal chancellery in Germany, said any country that wanted to participate in the single market, “basically has to accept the single market as it exists”, including free movement.

Speaking on behalf of Johnson on Today, one of his backers, the Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi, said Johnson did not necessarily accept this. “We don’t have to have a tradeoff,” he said. “We can actually negotiate on both sides.”

Johnson was nonetheless committed to limiting immigration, Zahawi explained

“The simple answer, and Boris is passionate about this, is we have to have an Australian-style points system, where we can control our borders and our economy, and we can still get access to the single market.”

The former London mayor was a proven election winner who would unite the party, the MP said: “You will hear a message of hope and positivity, and a message about bringing the country together.”

Johnson is set to pitch himself as someone able to appeal to people across the country. He will highlight his belief in social mobility and compassionate conservatism, signalling he wants to prove his claims during the EU referendum that he stands for helping ordinary people and not the elites.

There were indications on Wednesday of tensions between Gove and Johnson. An email sent mistakenly by Gove’s wife, Sarah Vine, to a member of the public exposed her lack of trust in Johnson to give her husband the terms or job he is after. “You must have specific [promises] from Boris,” she wrote.

It also expressed reservations about Johnson’s appeal to members and media bosses such as Rupert Murdoch, the owner of the Sun and Times, and Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail.

“Crucially, the membership will not have the necessary reassurance to back Boris, neither will Dacre/Murdoch, who instinctively dislike Boris but trust your ability enough to support a Boris Gove ticket”.

A source close to Gove said it was just Vine’s own opinion but it chimes with some worries expressed by Conservative MPs about Johnson’s character and appeal.

But Zahawi told Today: “Wives have all sorts of pieces of advice for their husbands, as my wife does.”

Speaking for May on Today, the Tory MP and former Home Office minister Damian Green said she would hope to negotiate some sort of compromise over free movement and the single market.

“What we need to do is negotiate the deal that gives us the best ability to trade in goods and services but also gives us control over the number of people coming in,” he said. “Where we land on that spectrum is clearly what the negotiations will be.”

Green said May had been “the most successful home secretary anyone can remember”, and contrasted her steadfastness with Johnson’s occasionally flexible opipnions: “She’s tough, she’s consistent. When she says something today, she’s still going to mean it tomorrow.”

There is a significant “Stop Boris” contingent among Tories, including some who backed leave, with female MPs in particular flocking to May’s camp.

Two other Tory candidates formally launched their bids for the top job on Wednesday: Stephen Crabb, the work and pensions secretary and remain campaigner, running as a blue-collar conservative; and Liam Fox, the former defence secretary, championing the interests of right-wing Brexit backers.

Several others, including Nicky Morgan, the education secretary and Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, are all still considering a run.

Despite the crowded field, a survey by the ConservativeHome website has put May and Johnson far out in front of other contenders, with the home secretary very narrowly ahead on 29% to 28% of those who responded.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Jessica Elgot and Peter Walker, for theguardian.com on Thursday 30th June 2016 09.38 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010