By Joseph Willits
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Michael Gove was the man responsible for hitting the airwaves the morning after 81 Conservative MPs voted in favour of a referendum on the EU. Gove said that despite the significance of numbers, differences in policy were being "exaggerated", and that there was a consensus between backbenchers and the Cabinet "to change our relationship with the European Union".
Gove stressed his appreciation for differing points of view. He told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, that despite not being in agreement with the rebels, he "respected their passion" and that "people like Adam Holloway, who resigned last night, did so as a matter of principle, and I respect them doing so". Rather than being a humiliating experience for the Government, and for Cameron personally, Gove said the debate had run contrary to a belief, and lack of faith about politicians "that people are always looking to see if they can shin up the greasy pole". Gove slammed Nick Robinson's assessments, who he said had "used all kinds of justifications to do with the vote; boundary reviews, and promotions" as examples of the rebellion's humiliation for the party.
On Cameron himself, Gove stated that the PM's desire "to refashion our relationship with the EU" was an issue of heart, not simply because it "was wrung out of him". He denied that the implementation of a three-line whip was embarrassing for Cameron, citing the fact that under a coalition dynamics change, and "parties need to compromise in the national interest".
Britain's relationship with Europe, he said, was an "issue of the deepest and most profound principle", and that there are three steps the Government should ensure to avoid division:
- "Make sure that the convulsions in the €urozone don't touch us."
- "Make sure that the money that is being spent to support countries in the eurozone doesn't come from the British taxpayer."
- "We need to have a new relationship with the European Union, which means that we take back powers in order to foster growth in this country."
Gove emphasised the need for backbenchers and the Government to work together, saying it was "wrong to think the divisions exposed by the referendum vote would remain a long-term problem".
In a rather unhelpful move for the Government, particularly after Gove's reasoned comments, Nick Clegg condemned the backbench rebellion and reasons behind it. He said:
"You don't change Europe by launching some smash-and-grab dawn raid on Brussels. You do it by setting out the case for changes and then arguing the case with other countries … We should stop tilting at windmills about threats and challenges which simply aren't there right now. Let's get on with the difficult job of working with our eurozone partners to fix the eurozone because, let's face it, unless you've got a strong, prosperous eurozone, you can't have a strong, prosperous United Kingdom."
You can watch Gove on BBC Breakfast here.