Michael Gove admits fresh Brexit referendum possible but claims it would 'rip apart social fabric' of UK

The environment secretary urged colleagues to get behind Theresa May’s deal while acknowledging it was ‘imperfect’

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Sunday 02 December 2018 12:56
Michael Gove: 'Calling a second referendum would rip apart the social fabric of the UK'

Michael Gove has been forced to admit a second Brexit referendum is now a real possibility – despite his belief calling for one would “rip apart the social fabric” of the UK.

In his first televised appearance since negotiations in Brussels concluded, the environment secretary said that if MPs vote down Theresa May’s deal, there could be a majority in parliament for a fresh public vote.

Mr Gove, however, insisted it is still possible for the prime minister to win the crucial vote in nine days’ time even though the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and dozens of Tory MPs have publicly opposed the deal.

The cabinet minister also rejected suggestion Ms May would have to stand down should she lose such a significant vote, claiming there is a desire around the country for the prime minister to “bring this deal home and secure Brexit”.

Urging his colleagues to get behind the deal, he told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show: “I reflected long and hard about this deal but I concluded, like lots of people, that while it is imperfect, it is the right thing do.

“One of the things I hope people will have the chance to do over the next nine days is recognise that we should not make the perfect the enemy of the good.”

He continued: “If we don’t vote for this deal, the alternatives are no deal, or no Brexit.

“If we don’t get this deal through then there is a chance of no Brexit at all, or a second referendum. There is a real risk that if we don’t vote for this deal that there may be a majority in the House of Commons for a second referendum. And there is also the risk that if we don’t vote for this deal we may get a less good deal, or no deal at all. All of those are less attractive than this deal.

“I actually think if there were a second referendum people would probably vote to Leave in even larger numbers than they did before. But the very act of calling a second referendum, I believe, would damage faith in democracy and rip apart the social fabric of this country.”

Pressed on the Northern Ireland “backstop” – the EU’s insurance policy to avoid a hard border – Mr Gove said however “uncomfortable” it is for the UK, “it is more uncomfortable for the European Union”.

He added: “We will have tariff-free access to their markets without paying a penny. And, more than that, we will have control of our borders.

“While it does contain elements that for a Unionist or for a Brexiteer aren’t perfect, it also contains elements that for any European politician would allow them to see Britain having a competitive advantage over their own country and their own economy.

“This fundamentally works against the interests of the single market and against the interests of European nations.”

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