BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) - Britain’s environment minister, Michael Gove, one of the ruling Conservative Party’s highest-profile Brexit campaigners, threw his weight on Sunday behind Prime Minister Theresa May’s strategy to leave the European Union, dismissing a rival proposal by his former ally Boris Johnson.
On the first day of the governing Conservatives’ annual conference the divisions over the EU that have hampered the party for decades were on show - with Johnson, who quit as foreign secretary in July over May’s Brexit plan, attacking her proposal as “deranged”.
But Gove, who teamed up with Johnson during their Brexit campaign only to pull his support for Johnson’s leadership bid in 2016, said he was fully behind May and her so-called “Chequers” plan, named for the country house where it was agreed by the cabinet in July.
Johnson has denounced the Chequers proposal and called instead for a plan based on an EU-Canada free trade pact, which he referred to as “super Canada”.
Gove told an event organised by environmental pressure group Greener UK: “I’m in favour of a ‘super Britain’ deal. The prime minister has put forward a proposal, which I support.”
Gove also sought to ease concern that Britain would lower its food or environmental standards after Brexit to win a free trade agreement with the United States.
“The prime minister has been clear that we would not lower social or environmental protections, and I think rightly that is where the public are,” he said. “I think there is a particular strength for the UK in being known as the home of quality food.”
Gove acknowledged that he was concerned about the prospect of Britain leaving the EU in March without first securing an agreement, but said he hoped both sides would try to minimise the fall-out from such an event.
“I do worry about it and I think a deal would be much, much better and I think if we left without a deal I think the UK and the EU would put in place all sorts of arrangements in order to make sure that he impact was mitigated,” he said.
Reporting By Elizabeth Piper