Michael Gove: Tory leadership hopeful says he 'deeply regrets' taking cocaine 'on several occasions'

‘I look back and think, ‘I wish I hadn’t done that’,’ says environment secretary

Adam Forrest
Friday 07 June 2019 23:05
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Michael Gove confirms he will enter the race to become Conservative leader

Conservative leadership candidate Michael Gove has said he “deeply regrets” taking cocaine “on several occasions”.

The environment secretary said he took the drug at social gatherings when he was a young journalist.

“I took drugs on several occasions at social events more than 20 years ago,” he told The Daily Mail. “At the time I was a young journalist. It was a mistake. I look back and think, ‘I wish I hadn’t done that’.”

He added: “It was 20 years ago and, yes, it was a mistake. But I don’t believe that past mistakes disqualify you.”

One of Mr Gove's rivals for the Tory leadership, Dominic Raab, said that his admission should not force him out of the contest, adding that he "rather admired his honesty".

"It's ultimately for MPs and colleagues and members to decide, but I certainly don't see it as barring him from this race in any way," Mr Raab told BBC Radio 4's Today. The former Brexit secretary, who has previously admitted occasionally smoking cannabis at university, added: "I've never taken cocaine or any other class A drugs. I think class A drugs are a bit different."

Sajid Javid's team said that the home secretary had never taken illegal drugs, while Andrea Leadsom said: "I have never taken cocaine or Class A drugs. Everyone is entitled to a private life before becoming an MP. I smoked weed at university and have never smoked it again since." Rory Stewart, who last week revealed he had smoked opium at a wedding in Iran, said he admired Mr Gove for his honesty.

A source close to Boris Johnson highlighted his previous statement that "I was once at university offered a white substance, none of which went up my nose, and I have no idea whether it was cocaine or not". Mr Johnson had previously suggested he had taken the drug and smoked cannabis as a teenager.

Asked whether Jeremy Hunt had ever taken illegal substances, his team pointed to his recent admission of drinking a cannabis lassi while backpacking in India.

The disclosure comes ahead of the release of a new biography of Mr Gove. The MP reportedly first admitted taking cocaine when he was quizzed by political strategists during the brief 2016 Tory leadership contest.

Mr Gove said “Yes, cocaine” when asked if he had ever used any drugs, according to a new book by journalist Owen Bennett.

The politician was apparently told at the time not to divulge that detail with anyone else.

“Gove was instructed not to give that answer in public, and told to fall back on the words David Cameron had used when he was running for leader, namely that politicians are entitled to a private life before entering politics,” according to an extract from the book.

How does a Tory leadership contest work?

“The book is correct,” Mr Gove said in a new interview with the newspaper. “I did take drugs. It is something I deeply regret. Drugs damage lives. They are dangerous and it was a mistake.

“Obviously it will be for my colleagues in parliament and members of the Conservative Party to decide now if I should be leader,” he added.

“I think all politicians have lives before politics. Certainly when I was working as a journalist I didn’t imagine I would go into politics or public service. I didn’t act with an eye to that.”

Mr Gove became a reporter at The Press and Journal in Aberdeen after leaving university in 1988. He joined The Times in 1996, before becoming the MP for Surrey Heath in 2005.

Liberal Democrat leadership contender Jo Swinson told The Independent: "It's the hypocrisy of people like Michael Gove who have taken class A drugs and yet pursue policies on this 'war on drugs' which criminalise people, don't offer help for people who have addictions and have been such a misguided way to address the issue and the problems caused by drugs in our society - that's the thing that I find most troubling about this revelation."

Earlier this week Mr Gove told Conservative MPs that he would be willing to delay Brexit “for a few months” if it would guarantee that the UK left the EU with a deal.

Speaking at a Tory leadership hustings in parliament, the environment secretary said he would seek an extension to the 31 October deadline if the prospect of an exit deal was in sight.

He said it was “foolish” to commit to the deadline in case more time is needed for negotiations, a pointed dig at fellow candidates Mr Johnson and Dominic Raab.

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