Michael Gove is making his father proud, one ruined fishing industry at a time

Gove likes to talk about how the EU had destroyed his father’s Aberdeenshire fishing business – now he wants revenge

Tom Peck
Political Sketch Writer
Tuesday 09 February 2021 07:20
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Michael Gove claims the government is 'learning in real time' from its mistakes

Five years ago, Michael Gove liked little more than to talk about how the European Union and the common fisheries policy had destroyed his father’s Aberdeenshire fishing business.

The truth of what actually happened became quite hard to establish, principally because when it was first raised, Faisal Islam, then of Sky News, tried to press him on the detail, but was told: “You are on the side, Faisal, of the elites. I’m on the side of working people. It is that sort of sneering condescension towards people who believe in democracy that discredits people on the Remain side.”

Oh, the thrilling populism of it all. Startling to look back on, isn’t it? But the world was a different place back then. Populism not so well understood. But that would all become a bit clearer when America accidentally elected its first proto-fascist president, who had a) bragged about sexually assaulting women, b) banned Muslims from entering America and c) been interviewed by the great anti-elitist Michael Gove, while Rupert Murdoch secretly held his hand.

Anyway, we digress. Yes, it’s hard to establish quite what happened, because Gove senior accidentally told some journalists that his business hadn’t gone bankrupt because of the EU, he “just decided to call it a day”.

When his own father’s words were put to Gove junior, he went away and came back with fresh quotes from his father, backing up his version of events. But, you know, these ones were typed out and emailed, as opposed to the kind that were actually said out loud to someone, when they called up and asked.

The following day, Gove junior had the following to say: “I remember when my dad ran his business. Two of his employees were lads in a care home. My dad took them in, gave them a job, and allowed them to work in his business and to sleep there in a spare room that he made for them.

“That business closed and those boys lost their home when that happened. I know what my dad went through when I was a schoolboy and I don’t think anyone should belittle his suffering or try to get a 79-year old-man to serve their agenda instead of agreeing and being proud of what his son does.”

That’s the key point, then: it’s all about making daddy proud. About avenging the loss of his fishing business. At the weekend, Gove was writing in the papers about his father getting vaccinated. No word, at this point, on how the pride restoration project is going. Brexit, of course, is never short of auto-generated irony. Here we are, just over a month in, and barely a day goes by without a new British fishing business going bankrupt, entirely because of Brexit. 

Baron Shellfish had been in business in Bridlington, Yorkshire for 40 years before this weekend. Now it's shut for good. “It is all Brexit-related – the extra costs, extra paperwork and the extra gamble, and it is down to the government and the EU,” said its owner, Sam Baron. “It's like playing Russian roulette with five bullets in your gun.”

Sam Baron, as it happens, took over the business from his father. More fool him. If he’d just worked a bit harder, he could have gone to Oxford, become a really big deal down at the union, got involved in politics then bankrupted other people’s fishing businesses to make his father proud.

There’s no debate here, of course. No room for manoeuvre on the quotes. Sam Baron is merely a fisherman, not a two bit populist that will spin you a lie as soon as breathe.

On Monday afternoon, Mr Gove, fresh from having heaped upon others the kind of precise misery of which he spoke so movingly five years ago, was before a parliamentary select committee. His own export business is doing just fine, you’ll be pleased to know. Its produce is as fresh as ever, and though the proceedings all took place over video link, you could almost smell it coming the webcam.

Northern Ireland was the question of the day, and the immediate breakdown in the workings of the Northern Ireland protocol. Of course, it doesn’t actually work even when it is working, which it currently isn’t. It is, for example, impossible for a Belfast gardener to buy bulbs from a Scottish plant nursery, an example Mr Gove gave, before blaming it on “EU integrationist theology”. Nothing, in Gove world, is ever Gove’s fault. Brexit was about “taking back control of our money, borders and laws”. Heaven forfend the EU should dare claim the right to do the same.

“My aim is to ensure the people of Northern Ireland get to go about their daily business with the minimum of disruption to their daily lives,” he said.

Which, of course, they were doing, before Michael Gove came along with his big ideas about Brexit, which they didn’t vote for and don’t want.

Still, as long as daddy’s proud, that’s the main thing, watching little Michael get his own back, one ruined life at a time.

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