It’s never made clear whether anyone is meant to believe a word he is saying. It’s certainly never made clear whether he does. It’s not so much that he’s lying. What, after all, is a lie in a post-truth world?
Some background. Four and a half years ago, the then home secretary Theresa May made her sole contribution to the EU referendum campaign, a solitary speech in which she argued, quite correctly, that the UK’s national security interests were better served inside the EU.
During the entire referendum campaign, no one on the Leave side made any attempt to correct her. It was an aspect of the debate they made a clear choice never to go anywhere near. And yet, four and a half years later, here was Michael Gove at the despatch box, telling the now ex-prime minister: “We can co-operate more effectively to safeguard our borders outside the EU than we ever could inside.”
It hardly bears repeating that Brexit means leaving Europol. It also means doing without the European Arrest Warrant, the thing that, back then, David Cameron never tired of pointing out allowed the UK to have the failed 21/7 bombers sent back from Italy, and tried and jailed here.
With his final words, Gove had this gem to offer. “I agree with her. When it comes to everything, security and other matters, no deal is better than a bad deal.”
Here, of course, you find the measure of the man. As Gove well knows, Theresa May spent a long time saying those words, before concluding they were meaningless, and that the horrors of no deal could not, in good conscience, be visited upon the British people, who were promised that this could never happen – and not by her, but by Michael Gove.
In April 2016, it was Michael Gove telling the British people the chances of the UK not being inside a European free trade zone that stretched from Iceland to Istanbul was “as likely as Jean-Claude Juncker joining Ukip”.
Ultimately, Theresa May came to the conclusion that no deal was the very worst bad deal of all. And, more to the point, that the only honourable thing to do would be to break her promise to keep his.
And here, naturally, was Gove, with his little coup de grace, savouring the thrilling endorphin rush as he delivered his glib little point to win the debate. The truth a forgotten afterthought; any remote semblance of shame long since departed.
But this is Gove. This is who he is.
Mercifully, in some ways, this strain of analysis is about to reach its endpoint. There are only a few months before the long years of “he-said-that-then-and-this-is-what-he-said-now” points come to an end. From January 1, there will just be reality. No more conjecture, the actual truth of the matter.
Of course, no one is expecting any kind of truth to emerge. There’ll never be any form of mea culpa. But it is sobering to think that the really big lies are still to come. The most shameless chapter of all hasn’t even started. Gove is only just limbering up.
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