Former government minister and Tory heavyweight Michael Gove has denied that he is a “snake” after being described as such by No 10 sources after being sacked as communities secretary by Boris Johnson last week.
The Prime Minister dramatically fired Gove last Wednesday after his Cabinet rival told him that it was time for him to quit, with the insult ensuing from Downing Street.
Gove said Johnson was “very equable, very polite” in sacking him, after the Prime Minister did not heed his call to step down in a “dignified and appropriate” way as support for his leadership crumbled at Westminster.
The former Cabinet minister replied “no” and laughed when asked by the BBC in an interview: “Are you a snake?”
“I’ve been called all sorts of things in my political life, but no, I think I’m just a regular guy.”Michael Gove today
Following Gove’s removal from his Government post, a No 10 source told the BBC: “You cannot have a snake who is not with you on any of the big arguments who then gleefully briefs the press that he has called for the leader to go.”
Gove said he had not given “a second thought” to why someone in the Prime Minister’s team had said that, and that he puts “spicy, salacious” comments to one side.
The pair’s relationship has long been troubled, with the Prime Minister’s leadership campaign in 2016 derailed when his rival withdrew support and decided to run himself.
Although Gove was among a slew of Cabinet ministers who told Johnson to stand down, he was the only one to be removed.
But Gove said he is still an “admirer” of the Prime Minister.
The Surrey Heath MP said: “When he sacked me, he was as he’s always been in conversation with me, very equable, very polite, and obviously I’m not surprised because earlier in the day, I’d gone to see him privately.
“I’d explained to him that, while I regretted it, there was a grim political reality facing us…”
“My advice to him, which I offered as a friend and in candour and in private, was that if he chose to step down that day, that Wednesday, he could take control of the situation and he could do so in a way that was dignified and appropriate.
“Now obviously Boris took a different view and I respect that.”Michael Gove
Gove, who was in charge of Johnson’s levelling up agenda, is now the most heavyweight supporter of former minister for equalities Kemi Badenoch in the contest to replace the Prime Minister.