UK Politics

Michael Gove: I wanted 'different feel' to Vote Leave campaign

Michael Gove and Boris Johnson during the 2016 referendum Image copyright Reuters

Michael Gove has distanced himself from some of the arguments he made during the Brexit referendum, including claims over levels of Turkish immigration.

The Leave campaign was criticised at the time for suggesting Turkey may join the EU by 2020 and up to 5.2m more migrants could come to the UK by 2030.

In a new book, Mr Gove says it "did not get everything absolutely right".

"If it had been left entirely to me, the Leave campaign would have had a slightly different feel," he admits.

The remarks feature in a new book about the campaign and political drama that followed it written by Tom Baldwin, a former Times journalist who was once a colleague of ex-journalist Mr Gove on the paper.

Mr Baldwin subsequently worked for Ed Miliband as his communications director during the 2015 election, and now works for the People's Vote campaign, which wants a referendum on the final UK-EU deal.

Claims about levels of Turkish immigration to the UK were among the most contentious of the referendum campaign.

Vote Leave suggested the UK would not be in a position to stop Turkey joining the EU and warned of an influx of migrants putting more pressure on public services.

The claims were repeated by key figures, including current cabinet ministers Mr Gove and Penny Mordaunt and ex-foreign secretary Boris Johnson.

In a speech during the campaign, Mr Gove said the continued free movement of people from the EU would have "huge consequences" for the health service, saying "the idea of asking the NHS to look after a new group of patients equivalent in size to four Birminghams is clearly unsustainable".

'Enough of experts'

The claims about Turkey were strongly rejected at the time by Downing Street, which insisted that its accession was a long way off and that the UK would have a veto anyway.

In an interview for the book, Ctrl Alt Delete, Mr Baldwin asked the environment secretary whether he was entirely comfortable in "appealing to some very low sentiments".

Mr Gove is quoted as replying: "I know what you mean, yes. If it had been left entirely to me, the Leave campaign would have had a slightly different feel.

"I would have to go back and look at everything I said and think whether that was the right response at the right time. There is a sense at the back of my mind that we did not get everything absolutely right.

"It's a difficult one."

Mr Gove is also pressed in the book about his much-quoted claim from the campaign that people had "had enough of experts" telling them what to think about Brexit.

He says the remark was spontaneous rather than intended and designed not to denigrate expertise but to highlight past claims, such as over the 2008 financial crisis, which had been wrong.

"The irony, of course, is that I often cite experts to justify what I am doing," he adds.

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