Environment secretary Michael Gove, a key ally of the Prime Minister, said he believes Theresa May’s EU withdrawal agreement will get through parliament despite signs of a growing revolt.
By some estimates, over a hundred Conservative MPs are preparing to vote against May’s withdrawal agreement in parliament next week, paving the way for a crisis over how the UK proceeds with Brexit.
“I believe we can win the argument, and win the vote,” Gove said.
Gove, a prominent Brexit campaigner who was ousted as justice secretary when May became Prime Minister in 2016, returned to the government following the General Election in 2017 as environment secretary.
Since then, he has became one of the Prime Minister’s most reliable allies – backing her in recent months even as many other pro-Brexit ministers quit the Cabinet in protest at the PM’s strategy for withdrawal.
Appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Gove said: “We should not make the perfect the enemy of the good,” warning that rejecting May’s agreement risked bringing about a no-deal Brexit, or causing the UK to remain in the EU.
“If we were to leave without a deal, I think we would undoubtedly go through a period of turbulence,” he said. “While it’s not as a bad as some have argued, it is economically, clearly, going to cause hurt.”
He said “there may be a majority for a second referendum in parliament,” if the deal collapses, saying that voting again could cause people to lose confidence in democracy.
Gove conceded that May’s withdrawal agreement, which has prompted a series of Cabinet resignations, was not ideal.
“It’s not 100 per cent of what we wanted, but then we didn’t get 100 per cent of the vote on 23 June in 2016,” he said.
The Prime Minister is facing growing pressure as MPs from across the major opposition parties prepare to table a letter to Commons speaker John Bercow, calling for May to be held as in contempt on parliament if she fails to publish the full legal advice on Brexit which was presented to the Cabinet by attorney-general Geoffrey Cox.
MPs say the Prime Minister has failed to comply with a binding parliamentary vote compelling it to release Cox’s advice.
That guidance, details of which were published by the Sunday Times today, reportedly says that Britain could be stuck infinitely with a backstop to prevent a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Gove suggested that the EU would want to give the UK a better deal in order to avoid the backstop being sustained.
“However uncomfortable it is for the UK, it is more uncomfortable for the EU, because we will have tariff-free access to their markets,” he said.
May, who is returning from the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, now faces an uphill battle to convince her own MPs to the merits of her deal. Universities and science minister Sam Gyimah quit the government on Friday night over the PM’s handling of Brexit and suggested a second referendum may be needed.