Fraser Nelson Fraser Nelson

‘I had to step up’

The Tory leadership candidate sets out his blueprint for post-Brexit Britain

On the way to interview Michael Gove, we meet a government minister, an Old Etonian, who suggests we ask him, ‘How can anyone trust you ever again?’ Just a fortnight ago, proposing such a question would have been unthinkable: the Justice Secretary had a reputation for being one of the most consistent, decent and honourable men in the cabinet. When Gove agreed to back Boris Johnson’s leadership bid, the pair seemed a dream team. But on the morning of their campaign launch, Gove announced that Johnson was unfit for the job, so he’d stand himself instead. Then, he was knocked out by Conservative MPs who were still recovering from the drama.

‘I tried very, very hard to make it work,’ Gove insists, sitting in his Commons office as his campaign team beaver away on their laptops. ‘But I was faced with a dilemma at the eleventh hour. I could go ahead, swallow my doubts — which had built up over four or five days — and recommend that Boris should be our next prime minister. Or I could acknowledge that I didn’t think I could make that recommendation, and face the consequences.’

In the past, Gove argues, others have helped elect prime ministers about whom they had doubts. ‘If you ask the people who acquiesced in those things whether they regret it, I’m sure they will say they do. I was not prepared to think that I had the opportunity to say “I don’t believe that this man is right or ready” and that I ducked that.’

Gove says of Boris’s reaction, ‘I thought that he would want to prove that my doubts were doubts that no one else should have — as you would expect a leader to do. He had the opportunity to demonstrate that I was wrong. He chose not to go ahead.’

To Gove’s admirers, this seemingly treacherous act demonstrates that he has the courage of his convictions, because he knew the damage his volte-face would cause to his own reputation.

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