Britain quitting the EU would lead to the “liberation” of the rest of Europe and a “contagion” of democracy, Michael Gove has claimed.
Ahead of the June 23 referendum, the Justice Secretary used a speech in London to signal that the break-up of the entire European Union would leave its states richer and more free.
His remarks came as the Leave camp pounced on an admission by Brussels chief Jean-Claude Juncker that the EU was “interfering” too much in the decisions of individual countries.
In his speech, Gove ridiculed claims by the In camp that ‘Brexit’ would lead to the UK being isolated on the world stage, joking that it would not turn into “a North Atlantic North Korea”.
He joked that Vladimir Putin, Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump would not turn into “the Penguin, Catwoman and the Joker” after the UK quit the 28-nation bloc.
And he also confirmed that quitting the EU would mean leaving the ‘single market’and argued that the UK should instead be part of a Europe wide free trade zone that included Albania, Iceland and Serbia.
Tackling the charge that Brexit would mean a ‘domino effect’ of economic instability, Gove said “yes, there will be ‘contagion’ if Britain leaves the EU, but what will be catching will be democracy”.
The Cabinet minister said that Britain quitting the EU would be “a liberation” for many other countries, including Greece, Italy, Denmark, Spain, Poland, Portugal – all of whom have battled with Brussels in recent years.
Last week, European Parliament President Martin Schulz told a German newspaper that the EU could ‘implode’ if Britain quit. “If the British leave the EU, there will be demands for further escape referendums," he said. The Czech PM has also warned of ‘Czexit’ if Britain votes to Leave.
Today, Juncker told MEPs that "interfering in too many domains of their + in too many domains where member states of EU are better placed to take action".
“We’re not very popular when we advocate for Europe. We’re no longer respected…when we emphasise the need to give priority to the EU.
“We'll eventually end up with the ruins of this ideal with people who want more national things at the expense of European principles"
After the Gove speech, Vote Leave campaign chief Dominic Cummings said the campaign and Gove would be happy for other countries to have similar independence referendums.
“Sure he would be, yes. The trend over the last 20 years, is profoundly damaging. It has also led to an extremely unpleasant rise in political extremism across Europe. You’ve got proper Nazi parties on the rise in parts of Europe for the first time in decades.
“And his view and our view is that this has been exacerbated by the trends in the European Union. It will force everyone in Europe to think ‘what do we want?’ Us voting to leave will force that vital discussion onto the agenda and help solve Europe’s problems.”
Asked if an Out vote would be ‘the end of the EU as we know it’, he replied: “Certainly”.
Mr Cummings also revealed that “umpteen ambassadors” of other countries had told him privately that they would agree a new trade deal with the UK after Brexit.
Gove said that he didn’t believe the EU would punish the UK with higher trade tariffs and suggested it was more likely the EU would collapse just like the Soviet Union had.
“In campaigners like to argue either that Brexit would lead to EU nations using their massive muscle to punish us, or that Brexit would lead to contagion and the collapse of Europe - just as Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union collapsed following secession from those unions.
“Both cannot be true. An EU without the UK cannot simultaneously be a super-charged leviathan bent on revenge and a crumbling Tower of Babel riven by conflict.
“The UK’s success will send a very different message to the EU’s peoples. They will see that a different Europe is possible.”
Gove admitted that the figure used by the Leave camp for how much the UK sends to Brussels every week - £350m - didn't tell the full story. Of the £19bn a year passed to the EU, some £9.2bn came back in rebate and spending here.
“If we left the EU we would take back control over nineteen billion pounds which we currently hand over every year - about £350 million each and every week, he said.
“Now it is true that we get some of that money back - £4.4 billion through a negotiated rebate - and £4.8 billion in money the EU spends in this country on our behalf.
“But it is also vital to note that the amount we give to the EU is due to go up - and up - and up.”
The In campaign was scathing about today’s speech, pointing to the Leave camp’s refusal to say which country the UK would most resemble when outside the EU.
James McGrory, Chief Campaign Spokesman for Stronger In, said: “Michael Gove seems to relish the idea of the EU being thrown into economic and political chaos if we vote to leave it.
“Regardless of where you stand in this debate, it is not in Britain’s interest to see our biggest trading partner plunged into the kind of economic turmoil we saw during the Euro crisis, which would also hurt British businesses.”
And former fellow minister Dominic Grieve seized on Gove's backing for the UK to join a 'free-trade area' stretching across Europe proved the Leave camp was 'descending into chaos'.
“They have already come up with a panalopy of countries they think Britain should emulate – Norway, Switzerland, Canada, even Peru," he said.
"Today, they added a few more to the list – namely Bosnia, Serbia and Albania. These countries, which have bilateral free trade agreements with the EU, have a far inferior deal to Britain."
But Gove derided the 'Project Fear' tactics of the Remain campaign, joking that the ‘bogeymen’ conjured up by the his opponents rivalled the horror novels of Stephen King.
'The City of London would become a ghost town, our manufacturing industries would be sanctioned more punitively than even communist North Korea, decades would pass before a single British Land Rover or Mr Kipling cake could ever again be sold in France and in the meantime our farmers would have been driven from the land by poverty worse than the Potato Famine,' he said.
'To cap it all, an alliance of Vladimir Putin, Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump, emboldened by our weakness, would, like some geopolitical equivalent of the Penguin, Catwoman and the Joker, be liberated to spread chaos worldwide and subvert our democracy.'
He added: 'The idea that if Britain voted to leave the European Union we would instantly become some sort of hermit kingdom – a North Atlantic North Korea, only without that country’s fund of international good will – it’s a fantasy, it’s a phantom, it’s a great grotesque patronising and preposterous Peter Mandelsonian conceit, that imagines that the people of this country are mere children, capable of being frightened into obedience by conjuring up new bogeymen every night.”
Gove said it was vital to leave the EU "before it's too late", warning that the UK could face losing more power and being forced to hand over more money to Brussels if there was a victory for Remain.
He also contradicted David Cameron’s claim that he would have to immediately trigger the legal process for quitting the EU the day after the referendum result.