Friends of Michael Gove made the case to ConservativeHome yesterday evening for him sticking, not twisting. This seems to be the sum of the advice he’s received from them, and he’s gone with it. This morning we learn that he will not resign. So the course of events during the last few days has been, first, that he reluctantly supported May’s deal in Cabinet; second, that when offered the Brexit Secretary post, he said that he would only take it were she to seek now to renegotiate it; third, that this request was refused and now fourth, that he isn’t resigning, but will stay at DEFRA.
The sum of all this is that it is known more widely than before that he doesn’t really back the deal. Furthermore, having now stuck rather than twisted, he will find it very hard to twist in the near future – however bad things get. He will be very well aware of the risk, in the long-lingering aftermath of his decision to walk away from Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign, of feeding more ammunition to the Tracey Ullmann Breaks The News caricature of him as unreliable (an impression now deepened in Downing Street). So he is left presumably unwilling to sell May’s deal on any other basis that it’s bad…but that the alternative is worse.
If this sounds unappetising – which it is – then so, in the great scheme of things, is the alternative. The anxiety that will consume senior members of the Cabinet – such as Gove, Sajid Javid and Liam Fox – is that their resignations could potentially bring down the Government, and open the door to Jeremy Corbyn. The Fixed Terms Parliament Act is an obstacle to that outcome but, as we saw last summer, it is not an insuperable barrier to an election. And as a Minister in the very front line of No Deal planning Gove will know how formidable are the challenges that it presents, and feel a sense of duty to help see it through. Whoever said that politics is easy?