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UK would thrive outside the EU: Michael Gove

Published 19/04/2016

Justice Secretary Michael Gove says intelligence services will be undermined by the European Court of Justice if Britain remains in the EU
Justice Secretary Michael Gove says intelligence services will be undermined by the European Court of Justice if Britain remains in the EU

The UK would thrive as a member of the European free trade zone without being bound by restrictions imposed from Brussels if the country backed Brexit, Michael Gove said, as he set out his vision of life outside the EU.

The Vote Leave campaign chief said it was "ridiculous" and "preposterous" to suggest that European Union leaders would attempt to block trading links with the UK after the June 23 referendum.

The Justice Secretary also insisted that David Cameron would be prevented from carrying out his plan to trigger the two-year timetable to quit the EU immediately if Leave won, as "no responsible government" would do that.

Tory Cabinet minister Mr Gove warned that the UK would be held "hostage" by Brussels if it voted Remain, as he claimed the Prime Minister's efforts to block "ever closer union" would not halt the process of closer integration.

Under Vote Leave's plans, the UK would secure a "unique" deal after Brexit, enjoying a tariff-free trade agreement but without accepting free movement of EU citizens, paying into the Brussels budget or being bound by the European Court of Justice.

Setting out his plan at Vote Leave's headquarters in London, Mr Gove said: "The core of our new arrangement with the EU is clear.

"There is a free trade zone stretching from Iceland to Turkey that all European nations have access to, regardless of whether they are in or out of the euro or EU.

"After we vote to leave we will remain in this zone."

It was not credible to suggest that Britain - alongside Belarus - would be kept out of the zone.

"Agreeing to maintain this continental free trade zone is the simple course and emphatically in everyone's interests."

He added: "The idea that the German government would damage its car manufacturers - and impoverish workers in those factories - to make a political point about Britain's choices; or the French government would ignore its farmers - and damage their welfare - to strike a pose; or the Italian government would undermine its struggling industries just to please Brussels... well, that is ridiculous."

Brexit could spell the end for the EU as it currently exists, Mr Gove suggested - with the UK's decision spreading a "contagion" of democracy across the continent.

In a speech to the London Stock Exchange, pro-Remain minister Anna Soubry urged businesses to speak out ahead of the referendum.

The business minister said: "It's right for us to belong to a group of countries with whom we have so much in common, whether it's the values of human rights, democracy or how we do business.

"That's why it's imperative we hear loud and clear the voices of all businesses so that the British people have all the facts and hear all the arguments before they cast their vote on June 23."

Downing Street has said the Prime Minister will trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, beginning the two-year process to quit the EU, straight away if the country votes to Leave.

But Mr Gove said: "There is no requirement for that to occur - quite the opposite.

"Logically, in the days after a vote to leave, the Prime Minister would discuss the way ahead with the Cabinet and consult Parliament before taking any significant step.

"Preliminary, informal conversations would take place with the EU to explore how best to proceed.

"It would not be in any nation's interest artificially to accelerate the process and no responsible government would hit the start button on a two-year legal process without preparing appropriately."

The Justice Secretary mocked the tactics used by the Remain camp - dubbed Project Fear by critics - which "treats people like children, unfit to be trusted and easily scared by ghost stories".

Instead, he said, it was a vote to Remain which carried risks for the UK.

"It is clear that if we vote to stay we are giving away more power and control to unaccountable EU institutions this year and every year," he said.

The EU had plans for greater power over tax and the financial system and the European Court of Justice could "erode even more of our independence" in future.

"If we vote to stay we are not settling for the status quo - we are voting to be a hostage, locked in the boot of a car driven by others to a place and at a pace that we have no control over," he said.

The Prime Minister's success in securing an opt-out from "ever closer union" in his renegotiation was dismissed by the Justice Secretary.

"Deleting the phrase 'ever closer union' offers no protection," he said.

Being outside the EU would allow the UK to cut its own trade deals with the US, China and India, Mr Gove suggested.

"We can strip out the protectionism and special interests that drag down EU negotiations," he said.

Prices in the shops could also fall as a result of new deals with emerging nations, Mr Gove suggested.

"An independent Britain could choose to strike free trade agreements with emerging economies and lower tariffs, extending new opportunities to developing nations and in the process allowing prices in Britain to become cheaper."

Post-Brexit, the UK would keep the money it currently sends to Brussels - "about £350 million each and every week" - but if it voted to Remain in the EU that sum could rise, with "open season" declared on the British rebate, Mr Gove warned.

The UK would also be free to adopt an Australian-style points-based immigration system outside the EU's free movement rules.

"As long as we are in the EU we cannot control our borders and cannot develop an immigration policy which is both truly humane and in our long-term economic interest," he said.

Mr Gove also repeated his warning that the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing deal could come under threat from Brussels.

The deal with the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand was a "source of jealousy and suspicion in Brussels", he said.

Former home secretary, and chairman of the Labour In for Britain campaign, Alan Johnson, warned the Leave camp was attempting to whip up fear over Turkish migration.

"I'll tell you what Project Fear is, we heard it from Boris Johnson, he actually said over 70 million Turks will be coming here - if that's not Project Fear, what is?" the ex-Cabinet minister told BBC Radio 4's World At One.

Mr Johnson also insisted the Justice Secretary was wrong about Britain having lax border controls, as he stressed the economic benefits of staying in the EU.

"Michael Gove wants to wish away reality, but the truth is every credible independent forecaster says Brexit will hurt our economy.

"Reports from the IMF, the LSE, Oxford Economics the CBI and others all show how important it is to jobs and our economy to remain in the EU.

"But it's vital for workers' rights, protecting our environment and keeping our social protections too - all issues that the Leave campaign have no credibility on and no interest in," Mr Johnson said.

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