David Davis and Boris Johnson are the “Messi and Ronaldo” of the Cabinet, Environment Secretary Michael Gove claimed today as he set out his red lines for Brexit.
Speaking to HuffPost UK, Gove heaped praise on his Brexiteer colleagues in a show of unity before a crunch get-together at the Prime Minister’s country home to thrash out the UK’s plan for leaving the EU.
The Brexit Secretary and Foreign Secretary have given speeches in recent days on their vision for the UK after it leaves the EU, but Gove – one of the leading figures in the Leave campaign in the 2016 referendum – has not been included on the so-called ‘Road to Brexit’ rostra.
In an interview just minutes after addressing the National Farmers Union conference in Birmingham, Gove said he was happy to play second fiddle to his colleagues as he compared them to the two best footballers in the world.
But while he has not been given the opportunity to deliver a Brexit speech of his own, Gove set out his own negotiation red lines to HuffPost UK – making clear the UK’s fishing waters and other agricultural crown jewels are not offered up to Brussels as a trade-off for the City of London to get special access to the EU.
He also insisted that he and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox were “singing from the same hymn sheet” when it comes to maintaining animal welfare standard in any post-Brexit trade deals, after farmers at the conference raised concerns over a race to the bottom culture once the UK leaves the EU.
When asked if he was a “bit annoyed” about not receiving top billing ahead of a meeting of the Cabinet’s Brexit subcommittee’s meeting at Chequers on Thursday, Gove replied: “Not at all.
“Why would you want to be on the pitch when you’ve got two of the best strikers on your team already out there?
“I’m more than happy. DD and Boris are big hitters. They are the Messi and the Ronaldo of the Cabinet, and as for me I’m just a journeyman so I’ll carry on doing my job.”
Gove said the fact the Defra Secretary – “which currently happens to be me” – is part of the 11-person strong Brexit sub-committee shows are seriously the Government is taking the rural economy in its talks with the EU.
When asked if the UK’s fishing waters were going to be traded away as part of a deal to get better access for the financial sector, Gove was definitive.
“No,” he said.
When asked if that had been agreed by Cabinet, Gove replied: “It’s been agreed by the strategy and negotiation sub-committee that one of the most important things is that we take back control of our territorial waters, that we leave the Common Fisheries Policy.”
Gove’s delivered his speech to the NFU as David Davis was addressing Austrian business leaders in Vienna - vowing that fears the UK would be plunged into a “Mad Max-style” dystopia were unfounded.
The Environment Secretary praised Davis’ “rather vivid” remarks, and when it was put to him that Brexit Secretary was mischaracterising the fears of Remainers, he added: “I don’t want to get into personality politics but there are some people in other parties who say that Brexit is inevitably going to lead to a race to the bottom and what he did was he pointed out how wrong and misguided that analysis is.
“He did so brilliantly and vividly.”
In the questions session after his speech, in which he talked up the need for increased broadband and 4G coverage in the countryside, concerns were raised over whether lower-quality produce would flood into the UK as part of post-Brexit trade deals.
Speaking to HuffPost UK, Gove insisted there would no compromise on standards and the person responsible for negotiating those trade deals, Liam Fox, agreed with him.
“Liam and I not only finish from the same hymn sheet we finish each other’s sentences because we are so in accord on all of these issues,” he said.