Today is a bad day for Theresa May. With resignations mounting up following the Brexit deal, and odds on her departure shortening rapidly, is Michael Gove making a move to take over?
Currently the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, earlier today Gove cancelled a planned visit to Yorkshire citing “family reasons”.
At Theresa May’s statement to parliament today, Gove was notably absent, prompting many on Twitter to ask where he was.
However, despite many ministers expressing concern over May’s Brexit deal, Gove was apparently positive, with ITV political editor Robert Peston reporting that a cabinet source had told him “only one cabinet minister involved in Leave campaign spoke in favour of the prime minister’s deal. That was Michael Gove”.
“The Prime Minister is trying to get the very, very best deal for Britian,” Gove told the BBC earlier this week. “I think it’s important that we deliver on the referendum result and I know the Prime Minister is seeking to do exactly that.”
Given his earlier support for May, why is he so notably absent now? The answer may be that he is gathering support to topple the PM, a notion that while may sound far-fetched, is firmly in line with previous behaviour.
Michael Gove has a history of apparent coups
Michael Gove has a history of plotting against fellow politicians that is so well associated with his political persona that it became the basis of a long-running sketch on the BBC’s political satire radio show Dead Ringers.
Back in 2017, Gove and follow Leave campaigner Boris Johnson attempted a so-called “soft coup” of Theresa May through a secret letter to the Prime Minister giving her instructions on how to orchestrate a hard Brexit.
The previous year, when Gove held the position of Secretary of State for Justice, he ran for PM following Cameron’s departure over the Brexit vote. This was despite him earlier claiming that he had no interest in the role.
During that time, a leaked email from his wife, Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine, encouraged him to make a move for the top position, outlining how he maneuverer to ensure success.
“Very important that we focus now on individual obstacles and thoroughly overcome them,” she wrote.
“One simple message. You MUST have SPECIFIC assurances from Boris, OTHERWISE you cannot guarantee your support. The details can be worked out later on, but without that you have no leverage.
“Do not concede any ground. Be your stubborn best. GOOD LUCK.”
How Gove might take power now
With Brexit negotiations at such a crucial juncture, any replacement of leadership will need to be achieved quickly and most likely without a full leadership election.
As a shrewd political operator, if Gove is interested in leadership, he will currently be seeking enough support to quickly as easily take power with little opposition.
This will require the backing of many of the key figures in the Conservative party, with key players such as Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees Mogg vital to achieving this.
Given his previous behaviour, it is highly unlikely Gove will make a move until he is certain of this support. And until then, he will likely toe the line with those currently seeing the most political favour.