In a firecracker of an interview on the Andrew Marr Show, Michael Gove confirmed that if an EU referendum was held today he would vote out. But he followed this by saying to James Landale that he backed the Prime Minister’s plans to renegotiate and hoped that a satisfactory form of membership could be agreed.
Significantly, Gove indicated that David Cameron would set out the Conservative ‘negotiating platform’ before the next election. This has been a key demand of Euro-sceptic Conservatives but one that Cameron has resisted. He is reluctant to provide anything akin to a renegotiation scorecard.
Gove’s intervention changes the terms of debate. It means that every Conservative Cabinet Minister is going to be asked what way they would vote if the referendum was held today—one Cabinet Minister estimates that nine people around the Cabinet table share Gove’s position. It’ll also increase the pressure on Cameron to say that he would back leaving if Britain received little back in the renegotiation.
Landale also pushed Gove on what his happening to the government’s childcare policy after it emerged on Newsnight this week that Nick Clegg has withdrawn his support for ratio changes. Gove claimed that Clegg had done this to show a ‘bit of leg’ to Lib Dem activists and secure his position prior to any leadership maneuverings on Vince Cable’s behalf. This claim is bound to infuriate Clegg and those around him. But it is a demonstration that with only two years to go to the election, the Conservatives are more prepared to play hardball politics inside the coalition.