News maker: Michael Gove
Published 22/02/2016 | 02:30
One of David Cameron's closest political allies has broken ranks with the UK prime minister on the vexed question of Britain's position in Europe.
Michael Gove, the UK's justice secretary and an ex-journalist, declared his support for the 'Out' campaign in a 1,500-word essay published over the weekend.
"It pains me to have to disagree with the Prime Minister on any issue. My instinct is to support him through good times and bad," Mr Gove wrote.
"But I cannot duck the choice which the Prime Minister has given every one of us. In a few months time we will all have the opportunity to decide whether Britain should stay in the European Union or leave. I believe our country would be freer, fairer and better off outside the EU".
As the most senior Tory politician to back an EU departure Mr Gove's move is a fillip to the 'Out' side, a broad church encompassing left-wing firebrand George Galloway and UKIP leader and former commodity broker Nigel Farage.
Other senior Tories in favour of an 'Out' include Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, the leader of the House of Commons Chris Grayling. and Work and Pensions Secretary of State and former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith. London Mayor Boris Johnson confirmed yesterday that he too will join the 'Out' side.
But the vast bulk of the Tory cabinet has rowed in behind Mr Cameron, with the referendum now confirmed for Thursday, June 23.
Aside from the main issue at hand, the question now is whether the Tory party can make it through the voting process unscathed. In his essay, Mr Gove said Europe is the only significant issue on which he and Mr Cameron have differed, but with so much at stake and cutting rhetoricians like Mr Farage and Mr Galloway on Mr Gove's side, the four months before the polls are likely to test the men's relationship.
Ireland will be watching closely. A Brexit and the concomitant uncertainty about Britain's relationship with the single market would have this country's exporters gnawing their nails, but so would the fractured Tory government that may eventuate in the event of an 'In' vote.
Grassroots Tories are largely Eurosceptic and as of yesterday, Tory MPs who had publicly made their minds up are narrowly in favour of leaving, according to data compiled by the political blog Guido Fawkes. Whatever the outcome in June, choppy waters are ahead.