Senior Tory calls for Michael Gove to quit leadership race over cocaine admission

Sayeeda Warsi says environment secretary was guilty of 'hypocrisy of the highest order'

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Sunday 09 June 2019 19:04 BST
Michael Gove says he was 'fortunate' not to go to jail after taking cocaine several times whilst working as a journalist

A former Conservative Party chair has said that Michael Gove should quit the leadership race after admitting taking cocaine.

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who chaired the party from 2010-12, said it was “completely inappropriate” for Mr Gove to stay in the contest after confirming that he took the class A drug at several social occasions while a young journalist.

Mr Gove was forced to deny having given inaccurate replies about his past drug use in security forms when entering parliament and travelling to the US. And he dismissed as “foolish” suggestions that he might be barred from the US as prime minister as a result.

He has said that he “profoundly” regrets having snorted the drug and admitted he was “fortunate” not to go to prison.

Lady Warsi told Channel 4 News: “It cannot be that those that govern us are subject to a lower standard of criminality than those who are being governed. Michael Gove needs to step away from the leadership race. It's completely inappropriate for him to continue."

Mr Gove’s rivals in the race to succeed Theresa May as Tory leader have steered clear of calling for him to give up his candidacy, with both Dominic Raab and Rory Stewart saying they admired his honesty.

Along with Mr Raab, Andrea Leadsom admitted having smoked cannabis at university, while Mr Stewart said he had once smoked opium at an Iranian wedding and Jeremy Hunt said he had drunk a cannabis lassi in India. Boris Johnson has said he was offered what may have been cocaine at university but none had gone up his nose.

In an effort to stop his past misdemeanours derailing his leadership bid, Mr Gove said that while justice secretary he had always argued that “people should never be defined by the worst decision they made, they should be given a chance to redeem themselves and to change”.

But Lady Warsi said this argument was belied by Mr Gove’s record in government.

“I’ve lost count of the number of meetings I’ve sat in with Gove where he’s judged, maligned, and sanctimoniously argued that there should be no path to rehabilitation nor road to redemption for anyone that may have said something that although legal may be objectionable,” she said in a string of tweets.

“And yet we are expected to simply shrug our shoulders and forget about criminal activity for which as a lawyer I saw many young people serve custodial sentences. This middle-class drug-taking privilege flies in the face of Gove’s oft repeated mantra of ‘British values’.”

She told Channel 4: "That's hypocrisy of the highest order ... It's exactly this kind of conduct that destroys trust in our politicians and institutions."

Mr Gove was asked on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show whether he had admitted having taken class A drugs in security vetting forms when he became a minister.

“No one asked,” he said. “I don’t believe that the question was ever raised. I don’t ever remember being asked at that time.

“I don’t believe I’ve ever on any occasion failed to tell the truth about this when asked directly.”

He dismissed the idea that he could face a ban on entry to the US, saying: “I think it is the case that if I were elected prime minister of this country, then of course it would be the case that I would be able to go to the United States. It’s foolish to suggest otherwise.”

Any UK citizen applying to travel to the US has to fill in a visa application form known as ESTA, which includes the question: “Have you ever violated any law related to possessing, using, or distributing illegal drugs?” Those replying yes can be barred from life from entering the country.

Asked whether he accepted that he had committed a crime, the former justice secretary told Marr: “Yes, it was a crime, it was a mistake. I deeply regret it.”

He added: “I do have a profound sense of regret about it all and I am very, very aware of the damage that drugs do. I was justice secretary and during that time one of the things I said was that people should never be defined by the worst decision they made, they should be given a chance to redeem themselves and to change.”

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