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Michael Gove declares himself 'the candidate for change' in leadership pitch

Published 01/07/2016

Home Secretary Theresa May hopes to succeed David Cameron in Downing Street
Home Secretary Theresa May hopes to succeed David Cameron in Downing Street
Justice Secretary Michael Gove hopes to win the keys to Downing Street.

Michael Gove declared himself "the candidate for change" as he set out his pitch to take the keys to No 10 with a speech protesting he had never wanted to become prime minister.

Just 24 hours after his manoeuvring forced frontrunner Boris Johnson to pull out of the Conservative leadership contest, the Justice Secretary insisted he had done "almost everything not to be a candidate" but standing for the leadership was "the right thing to do".

But Mr Gove faced calls to pull out of the race as well as an apparent threat of violence from a minister who is close to Mr Johnson.

His prospects of winning the contest are rated lower than fellow Brexit campaigner Andrea Leadsom, who is now second only to Theresa May with the bookies.

Mr Johnson dismissed as "rubbish" claims that he had put his own interests first and said he wished Mr Gove "every possible success".

In a detailed speech setting out his leadership vision, Mr Gove said he stood by all of the promises made by Vote Leave during the referendum contest.

In a clear attempt to draw contrasts with rival Mrs May - who on Thursday portrayed herself as an unshowy politician who would "get the job done", the Cabinet minister said the challenges facing Britain required "not just a cool head, but a heart burning with the desire for change ... not business as usual but a bold vision".

"I will ensure we honour the instructions the British people have given us," Mr Gove said. "I argued for specific changes in the referendum campaign, I believe in them, I will deliver them.

"The promise to leave the European Union, end the supremacy of EU law and take back control of our democracy. With my leadership, it will be delivered.

"The promise to take back control of our borders. I will end free movement, introduce an Australian-style points-based system for immigration, and bring numbers down. With my leadership, it will be delivered.

"The promise to use the money we currently send to Brussels and invest it instead on the priorities of the British people - principally in the NHS - and to cut VAT on domestic fuel. With my leadership, it will be delivered."

Despite relentless controversy over Vote Leave's claims - branded "misleading" by the UK's statistics watchdog - that Britain handed £350 million a week to Brussels, much of which could be spent on the NHS, Mr Gove said he stood by the pledge to put £100 million a week more into the NHS.

Rival leadership contender Liam Fox said the feuding between Mr Gove and Mr Johnson was a "distraction" and that the country needed "Brexit for grown-ups" in the wake of last week's referendum vote to leave the EU.

And veteran former chancellor Ken Clarke told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I do think Michael Gove would do us all a favour if he were to stand down now."

Mr Gove said he had ne ver expected to run for the leadership but had allowed himself to be guided by his heart.

"I never thought I'd ever be in this position," he said. " I did not want it, indeed I did almost everything not to be a candidate for the leadership of this party.

"I was so very reluctant because I know my limitations. Whatever charisma is I don't have it, whatever glamour may be I don't think anyone could ever associate me with it.

"But - at every step in my political life - I've asked myself one question. What is the right thing to do? What does your heart tell you?"

Mr Gove said he would wait at least until 2017 to kick off the two-year process of negotiating the UK's withdrawal by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and would not hold an early general election.

Northern Ireland minister Ben Wallace on Twitter suggested Mr Gove would end up like a character from Game of Thrones, whose penis gets dismembered.

He said: "He is actually Theon Greyjoy or will be by the time I am finished with him."

Speaking to reporters outside his London home, Mr Johnson said it would be "up to the next government" to implement Brexit and "up to the next prime minister" as to whether he gets a job in the new administration.

Asked if he felt betrayed by Mr Gove, he replied: "I cannot, unfortunately, get on with doing what I wanted to do, so it'll be up to somebody else now and I wish him every possible success."

Nadine Dorries, who was left in tears by Mr Johnson's announcement that he would not be standing in the contest, attacked Mr Gove.

" I am utterly astounded to discover that some MPs are actually backing Gove," she said. "Clearly, honesty and honour not a consideration for some."

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