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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 October 2018

Top Brexiteer says UK PM's plan is right 'for now'

Michael Gove said the onus was now on the EU to bring about a good deal

The UK's environment secretary, Michael Gove, has been muted as a future Conservative party leader. Reuters
The UK's environment secretary, Michael Gove, has been muted as a future Conservative party leader. Reuters

Pro-Brexit figurehead Michael Gove insisted on Sunday that Prime Minister Theresa May's blueprint for leaving the EU is right "for now" – stressing that future PMs could alter it after Britain's departure.

Environment Secretary Gove was among the main voices advocating a Leave vote in the 2016 referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union.

However, while other big-name Leavers have quit the cabinet over Mrs May's Brexit proposals to keep Britain close to the EU on trade, Mr Gove is backing the so-called Chequers' master plan.

"I believe the critical thing is making sure we leave in good order with a deal which safeguards the referendum mandate," he told BBC television.

"A future prime minister could always choose to alter the relationship between Britain and the European Union.

"But the Chequers approach is the right one for now because we have got to make sure that we respect that vote and take advantage of the opportunities of being outside the European Union."

Mr Gove said the responsibility was now with Brussels "because we've shown flexibility".

"I've compromised," he added. “As a result of Chequers I have to qualify one or two of my views,” Mr Gove said. "I have to acknowledge the parliamentary arithmetic."

Mrs May said she was "irritated" by speculation about a leadership contest as she slammed her former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, seen as her most likely challenger.

Mr Johnson quit in July over the Chequers plan.

Mrs May, the centre-right Conservative Party's leader, said she was focused on securing a Brexit deal rather than her own future, in a BBC television interview on Sunday.

Mrs May blasted Mr Johnson for using "completely inappropriate" language when he described her Brexit blueprint as putting Britain in a "suicide vest".

Asked about her plans to stay in the job, she said: "This is where I get a little bit irritated.

"This debate is not about my future: this debate is about the future of the people of the UK and the future of the United Kingdom.

"That's what I'm focused on and that's what I think we should all be focused on."

Mrs May added it was important to ensure "we get that good deal from the European Union".

Mr Johnson is the bookmakers' favourite to succeed May, ahead of Home Secretary Sajid Javid, backbench leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, Gove and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox – another top Leaver in the cabinet – said Brussels had made "reassuring noises" in recent weeks on the Brexit talks.

"They have understood that Britain is serious that if we don't get a good deal we could end up with no deal," he told Sky News television.

Mr Fox said Chequers was a "reasonable, constructive way forward" and sensed there was "movement" in the right direction from Brussels towards striking a deal.

He ruled out extending the negotiation process – Britain is due to leave at the end of March 2019 – saying such a move would allow the EU "to dictate when Britain will leave".

Mrs May's Conservative minority government includes a sizeable bloc of hardcore Brexiteers, headed by Rees-Mogg, and would likely need the support of the left-wing main opposition Labour Party, or a chunk of their MPs, to get her proposals through parliament.

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Keir Starmer, Labour's Brexit spokesman, said any EU deal must meet Labour's key Brexit tests, which include delivering the "exact same benefits" as Britain has inside the single market and customs union.