How Did Michael Gove Score In EU Debate?

June 3, 2016 10:44 PM

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The Justice Secretary won over the audience on immigration and sovereignty but was less convincing on the economy and jobs.

Justice Secretary Michael Gove has argued the case for leaving the EU in a special event hosted by Sky News, but how well did he do?

It's the elites versus the people, was Michael Gove's message. All these independent economic authorities backing Remain? Pah! They didn't predict the economic crash and wanted us to join the Euro. "I'm glad they’re not on my side!" he declared.

What about international leaders, who we might need on side to need to negotiate trade deals? They would never give up their sovereignty, why should they lecture to us, he cried.

It's a point of weakness, and Mr Gove veered into conspiracy theory territory when saying all these economists were paid by the EU and not independent.

Tackling this question was a balancing act and Mr Gove pulled it off. He distanced himself from a dog-whistle, anti-immigration message, stressing his support for Britain's "multicultural, multiracial, multi-faith society", which he said is a "great thing".

Britain also has a proud history of providing a safe haven and refuge to people fleeing persecution, he said. But he stressed that people want to see immigration controlled, and don't see why the 450 million EU citizens are at the front of the queue. The Leave side know they are on firm ground here, and it didn't dominate the debate.

Clearly Mr Gove's favourite subject. "Can you name the five presidents of Europe?" he asked. Of course we can't. He railed against a European bureaucracy run by "people who we cannot name and we can't sack" for the decisions they make although they affect Britain.

An assured answer to the question about whether we are not better off making laws along with other countries. The democracy argument is compelling but maybe not going to excite those crucial undecided voters.

Mr Gove showed genuine emotion when recalling how his father's fish processing business went to the wall and all the staff lost their livelihoods. "Don't belittle their pain," he said, powerfully, of others in the same situation.

"The EU is a job-destroying machine. Anyone in manufacturing knows that," he said, and promised the steel industry could be helped with state aid if we escape EU rules.

Maybe, but when pushed on whether UK jobs would be safe in the event of Brexit he conceded: "I can't guarantee every person currently in their current job will keep their job."

Some 80% of Britain's economy is in services and there are real concerns about exports to the EU - as relentlessly argued by big firms who are among Britain's largest employers.

People's certainty about their jobs is the key risk for the Leave campaign and it wasn't neutralised.

Nicola Sturgeon has threatened a second referendum if the UK as a whole opts for Brexit - but pro-European Scots voted wanted to stay in.

For those leaning towards Brexit, the prospect of losing part of the United Kingdom is a real concern.

Mr Gove - who is from Aberdeen - insisted the majority of Scots are against a second referendum. True - but as we saw in the independence referendum, things can change quickly.

"We send the EU £350m a week," screams the Out campaign's advertising, although this figure has been slammed as deeply misleading - including by some on the Brexit side.

It doesn't include Britain's rebate or the money which is spent on programmes in Britain. Mr Gove defended it saying these billions could be better spent on the NHS and cutting energy bills.

It seems the Leave campaign are banking on any discussion of handing over taxpayers' money to the EU - even when the figures are disputed - working in their favour.


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