Michael Gove this morning denied that fellow hard Brexit Tories are plotting to oust their party leader.
Talking to the BBC’s Today programme Mr Gove insisted that “loose talk” of a leadership challenge could “undermine” Brexit negotiations, despite reports that 50 of his colleagues met last night to discuss ditching Theresa May.
A Tory leadership coup could be just days away with members of the Hard Brexit shadowy Tory ‘government within a government’ the ERG meeting to plot ditching the Prime Minister for a Tory leader who would support a harder Brexit.
Idealogical hard Brexiteers in the Conservative Party have been picking faults with Theresa May’s Chequers plan created to unite her party’s Brexit position.
On the weekend Boris Johnson caused controversy calling it putting Britain in a suicide vest and handing the EU the button, as Britain would continue tio be bound by EU legislation over which it would have no say.
“I believe the proposals we have at the moment are the right proposals,” insisted Michael Gove who unlike other Brexit campaigners has not resigned over the PM’s plans.
“I want her to carry on as Prime Minister for as long as possible,” he added.
Reports suggest 35 of the 48 letters needed to trigger a no-confidence vote in the PM have already been handed to the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee.
One MP said to have been at the angry ERG meeting last night told the Telegraph newspaper: “The mood in the room surprised me. It was open revolt.
“We’re now in a position that if she won’t chuck Chequers then I’m afraid the party will chuck her.”
But Gove insisted: “I think she’s doing a great job at the moment.”
He was less than confident when the Today Programme interview turned to his department’s Brexit readiness and whether farmers’ livelihood and animal welfare could be guaranteed.
Asked “will Brexit cause a fall in farm values?” the Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, was unable to offer reassurances.
He replied: “some people may want to leave farming to give others a chance.” Gove also appeared to backpedal on animal welfare promises.
The National Audit Office reports that Michael Gove’s Defra department have completed just 15 out of 154 of the national export agreements needed to maintain the trade of animals and animal products with the EU after Brexit.
David Drew MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, immediately responded to comments on banning live exports by Michael Gove on the Today programme.
“Michael Gove is back pedalling on his promise to ban live exports,” said the Labour MP.
“This is a Secretary of State who has ordered the culling of the highest number of badgers on record and is even rolling out the cull in areas defined as low risk.
“We are demanding that Michael Gove now clarifies the Government’s position on banning live exports, to end their unscientific and inhumane badger cull.”
Who are the ERG?
The ERG was created in 1993 by Sir Michael Spicer, then Tory MP for West Worcestershire, after the Maastricht Treaty.
The group worked with other Eurosceptic groups such as the Referendum Party and Ukip. Douglas Carswell who went on to become Ukip’s one and only MP was a former member.
Leading up to the EU referendum, ten members of ERG were officially working at Vote Leave: Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith, Liam Fox, Chris Grayling, Priti Patel, John Whittingdale, Ann-Marie Trevelyan, Bernard Jenkin, Steve Baker and Douglas Carswell.
The ERG doesn’t publish membership details or accounts, but from records of Parliamentary expenses and various reports there are around 60 -70 Tory MPs associated with the secretive lobbying group.
The ERG, like the rest of the Leave campaign has been slammed for a lack of transparency over its funding, especially its use of tax payers’ money.
Labour MPs called for an Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) inquiry, after a damning report by openDemocracy found that “despite expenses rules stating that MPs cannot claim for research or work “done for, or on behalf of, a political party”, the European Research Group has received over a quarter of a million pounds from MPs who claimed the public cash through their official expenses.”
Andrea Leadsom, Sajid Javid, Liam Fox, Chris Grayling, all high-profile Brexiteers had each claimed thousands of pounds for ERG research.
The report also found that Jacob Rees-Mogg’s staff insisted “he had claimed no money through his expenses for the group. However his filed accounts state he claimed almost £10,000 for ERG research.”