On Friday in the Spectator’s Coffee House podcast I suggested Michael Gove should be installed as a caretaker leader until June. I believe this is our best chance — perhaps our only chance — of honouring the result of the referendum.
To be clear, I’m a passionate Brexiter and would like as clean a break with Brussels as possible. I want out of the Customs Union and out of the Single Market. If I was an MP, I’d be a member of the ERG. The disastrous course of the Brexit negotiations has made me more anxious to leave, not less. The fact that so many MPs and senior civil servants have proved unequal to the task of extricating ourselves from the clutches of this supranational octopus shows how infantilized our political class has become as a result of having allowed Parliament's sovereignty to ebb away. The process of renewal cannot begin until we’ve recovered that sovereignty and it cannot start soon enough. Had the British people not voted to Leave in 2016, I think we would have passed the point of no return. It was our last chance to save the UK as an independent sovereign nation state and we took it.
I now fear Brexit is in peril. A majority of MPs are opposed to no deal and, unfortunately, they’re prepared to defy the will of the British people, as expressed in both the EU referendum and the 2017 General Election, to prevent us leaving if they possibly can, whether that means kicking Brexit into the long grass, a second referendum or revoking Article 50. The size and manner of yesterday’s protest indicates that the Remainers have never been more confident. They can sense that reversing the outcome of the referendum is within their grasp.
I’ve looked carefully at the arguments made by MPs and others who still believe no deal is a realistic possibility and I’m not convinced. Parliament will find a way to obstruct it, even if that means riding roughshod over the British constitution. So I’ve reluctantly come to the conclusion that our best hope of leaving is if the Withdrawal Agreement passes. If I thought there was a decent chance of leaving with no deal, I wouldn’t give Theresa May’s deal a second glance, but I don’t believe there is. What Churchill said of democracy is true of the Withdrawal Agreement: it’s terrible, but it’s better than any of the alternatives.
It is also abundantly clear that May’s only hope of getting the Withdrawal Agreement through parliament is if she promises to leave Downing Street. That means announcing her resignation immediately and pledging to leave as soon as a new leader is elected by the Conservative Party. But she should remain at Number 10 – in office, but not in power – until we’ve left the European Union. And the way to secure that is to appoint Michael Gove Deputy Prime Minister and give him the job of piloting the Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament, along with the legislation required if we’re to leave in an orderly manner by May 20th.
Why Gove and not, say, David Lidington or Jeremy Hunt? Partly because he’s always been a Leaver and would therefore be better placed than them to persuade eurosceptic MPs to vote for the deal – don’t forget, Jacob Rees-Mogg supported Gove in the 2016 leadership contest. He also has more sway with the Remainers in Parliament than any of the other original Leavers because of his willingness to compromise – certainly more than Boris or David Davis. He is one of the few members of the Cabinet on the Leave side I can envisage Amber Rudd and other prominent Remainers getting behind.
Equally important, Gove has always been the most enthusiastic supporter of the Withdrawal Agreement among prominent Leavers so he could credibly make the case for it where few others could. He is also the Conservative Party’s best Parliamentary performer, as he reminded us when he took apart Jeremy Corbyn during the No Confidence vote in January. And his credentials as a Unionist, being a Scot, a Protestant and a patriot, are second to none. So he would have a better chance of getting the DUP onside than anyone else who supports the deal.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting Gove should be made the leader in some kind of coronation. Just a caretaker until May 20th, at which point there should be a proper contest. If you accept that no deal isn’t going to happen and passing the Withdrawal Agreement is our best hope of leaving, then May announcing her departure date and making Gove Deputy PM is the most sensible way forward.
We are at a critical point in the UK’s history and the events of the next few days will determine whether these islands survive as an independent sovereign state or they’re dissolved into a European superstate.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. The hour has come; the man is Michael Gove.