Monday 23 September 2019

Tory leadership hopeful Gove 'deeply regrets' taking cocaine

Ambitious: Michael Gove, a contender to become Conservative leader and UK prime minister
Ambitious: Michael Gove, a contender to become Conservative leader and UK prime minister
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Conservative leadership hopeful Michael Gove has said he "deeply regrets" taking cocaine "on several occasions". The UK Environment Secretary said he used the drug 20 years ago and branded it "a mistake".

His admission is likely to overshadow his tilt at the Tory leadership, with his campaign due to formally launch on Monday in his bid to become Prime Minister Theresa May's successor.

He was among the frontrunners to take on the mantle after Theresa May officially stepped down as Conservative leader yesterday, But Mr Gove told the 'Daily Mail': "I took drugs on several occasions at social events more than 20 years ago.

"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."

It was a dramatic twist at the end of a low-key day for Mrs May, who left her role as Tory leader without ceremony.

While she will continue as prime minister for several weeks, Mrs May stepped aside to allow the battle for her job to fully commence.

Already 11 candidates have lined up to try to take control, with Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt at the front of the pack while Mr Gove was also tipped.

Mrs May made no public statement, instead choosing to write to the joint acting chairs of the backbench Conservative 1922 Committee, Charles Walker and Cheryl Gillan, confirming the announcement she made a fortnight ago in Downing Street.

Although the move marked another significant milestone on the troubled road towards Brexit, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar opted not to make any contact with Mrs May.

Sources said it was "not the day for it" as she will continue to represent the UK until the end of July.

"They'll be seeing each other at the next European Council," a Government source said.

The prime minister spent her last day as party leader in her Maidenhead constituency.

But much of the political focus was on the by-election which took place in Peterborough.

The Conservatives finished third, behind Labour and the Brexit Party. The seat would traditionally have been a close call between the Conservatives and Labour.

Foreign Secretary Mr Hunt warned there would be "no future" for the party unless Brexit is resolved.

Mr Johnson, the bookmakers' favourite to replace Mrs May, has said that unless the UK's withdrawal from the European Union is completed by October 31, an election would see Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street.

Under the timetable set out by the party high command, it is expected the new leader will be in place in the week beginning July 22, following a postal ballot of the party members.

Mrs May is stepping down amid a growing row with Chancellor Philip Hammond over her plans to leave with a series of big-spending announcements, including a multi-billion pound overhaul of England's schools and colleges.

Meanwhile the leadership contenders were setting out their own policy platforms.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock set out proposals to abolish business rates for small, high-street firms and boost the living wage.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid promised to tear up major parts of the immigration policy he inherits from the prime minister. He said it was "nonsense" to have a net migration target "that you know you can never meet".

Andrea Leadsom promised "decisive and compassionate" leadership in her first campaign video.

Irish Independent

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