U.K. Brexit Vote Would Be End of EU as We Know It, Gove Says

The Brexit Debate: What Happens if the U.K. Leaves the EU
  • Gove attacks Cameron case for EU as Tory divisions deepen
  • Justice secretary says Cameron EU deal makes no difference

Justice Secretary Michael Gove said a British vote to leave the European Union on June 23 would spark a reaction among people across Europe that would force the 28-nation bloc to change beyond recognition.

There would be a “democratic liberation” of Europe, with opponents of budget cuts, austerity and regulation imposed by the EU following Britain’s lead in a so-called Brexit and overturning decades of bureaucratic and undemocratic centralization, Gove said in a speech in London on Tuesday.

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Gove, a close friend of Prime Minister David Cameron, adopted the language of socialism to argue that Greeks opposed to “dreadful austerity,” Spaniards enduring joblessness and Portuguese facing cuts to health and welfare spending would join with Danes, Poles and Italians to reject the EU.

“For Europe, Britain voting to leave will be the beginning of something potentially even more exciting -- the democratic liberation of a whole continent,” he said. U.K. success outside the bloc will “send a message to the EU’s peoples, they will see that a different Europe is possible. It is possible to regain democratic control of your own country and currency, to trade and cooperate with other EU nations without surrendering sovereignty to a remote and unelected bureaucracy.”

Gove further deepened divisions in the Tory party by pouring scorn on arguments by Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne that EU nations would block trade with the U.K. in the event of a Brexit. His adviser, Dominic Cummings, told reporters he had spoken to “umpteen” ambassadors who said they would do a deal with Britain after a “Leave” vote but weren’t allowed to say so in public.

Gove, one of Cameron’s closest political allies before the two decided to back different sides in the referendum, also used the speech to belittle two of the main gains the prime minister cited from his negotiations with other European leaders before he called the vote.

An opt-out from the EU drive toward “ever closer union,” which Cameron heralded as a major victory, “makes no difference,” Gove said. He also warned that concessions won by Cameron on access to welfare, which the premier claimed would slow immigration to the U.K., won’t work.

‘Safer Choice’

With fewer than 10 weeks to go until the plebiscite, both sides of the argument are ramping up their rhetoric over the merits of EU membership. On Monday, Osborne warned that a Brexit would cause “permanent” damage to the U.K. economy. Gove responded that a vote to leave is the “safer choice” for Britain.

“If we vote to stay we are not settling for the status quo, we are voting to be a hostage, locked in the boot of a car driven by others to a place and at a pace that we have no control over,” Gove said. “If we vote to leave we take back control.”

Polling is inconclusive, with some indicating the vote will be tight, and others showing a lead for the “remain” side. An Orb poll for the Telegraph published on Tuesday showed 52 percent of voters plan to opt to remain, with 43 percent choosing to leave. YouGov Plc’s most recent polls show a much narrower margin.

Immigration Warning

Cameron, who first pledged the referendum as a way of placating Euro-skeptics in his party, is facing a widening rift. Gove and Mayor of London Boris Johnson have the support of many rank-and-file lawmakers and activists for their campaign, while Cameron and Osborne are leading the attempt to keep Britain in the bloc.

“If we do vote to stay in the EU then immigration will continue to increase by hundreds of thousands year on year,” Gove said. “Over 250,000 people came to Britain from Europe last year. As long as we are in the EU we cannot control our borders and cannot develop an immigration policy which is both truly humane and in our long term economic interests.”

The justice secretary criticized a Treasury document, published on Monday, which analyzed some of the options available to Britain if voters choose to leave. Quitting the bloc would leave the U.K.’s economic output between 3.8 percent and 7.5 percent lower after 15 years, costing as much as 2,100 pounds ($3,000) per person, the Treasury said.

The Treasury isn’t alone in its analysis, with the International Monetary Fund, the London School of Economics and the CBI business lobby all saying EU membership boosts employment and the economy, Alan Johnson, who heads the opposition Labour Party’s “In for Britain” campaign, said Tuesday in a statement.

“Michael Gove wants to wish away reality, but the truth is every credible independent forecaster says Brexit will hurt our economy,” Johnson said. “The fact is Britain is better off remaining in the EU and no amount of false promises and bluster from the ‘Leave’ camp can change that.”

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