Politics Today: MichaelGove dismisses fears Brexit could break up the union

Politics Today: MichaelGove dismisses fears Brexit could break up the union
Politics Today:

Michael Gove today dismissed fears that Brexit could break up the union - saying Northern Ireland and Scotland will stay part of the UK for 'as long as the mind can imagine'.

The Environment Secretary insisted the dire warnings about the impact of the EU referendum had not come to pass.

He also denied that Brexit was about 'identity politics' and said the country could be more open to immigration after cutting ties with Brussels.

The comments came with tensions running high over the future of the Irish border and Nicola Sturgeon threatening to step up her push for Scottish independence.

The future of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic has emerged as critical in the Brexit negotiations, with the UK and the EU engaged in bitter wrangling over how to avoid imposing 'hard' customs checks.

Brussels has dismissed the government's options of either a customs partnership or a 'Maximum Facilitation' technological solution.

Meanwhile, Theresa May has rejected the idea of drawing a border in the Irish sea, warning that breaking up the UK could never be acceptable.

Research published today found fierce resistance to tougher border restrictions either on the island of Island or between the province and the rest of Britain.

There was a 'strong expectation' that any dispute would 'quickly deteriorate into violence' with people threatening to block traffic and vandalise cameras, according to the UK in a Changing Europe study.

A poll for the report found one in five Catholics regarded the possible use of cameras at the Irish border as 'almost impossible to accept', and would support protests such as traffic being blocked.

Some 9 per cent of Catholics suggested they would support cameras being vandalised.

A separate survey carried out by ICM found six out of 10 voters thought Brexit had increased the chances of the UK splitting up.

But at an event organised by the Policy Exchange think-tank today focusing on the process of leaving the EU, Mr Gove played down the risk to the union.

'I'm confident that Northern Ireland will be in the UK for as far as the eye can see, as long as the mind can imagine,' Mr Gove said.

'Brexit has, certainly so far, strengthened unionist currency in our politics, not weakened it.

'Since the vote to leave the European Union in 2016, support for Scotland leaving the United Kingdom has diminished.'

The leading Brexiteer said while the EU was 'a union that doesn't work, the UK is one that does'.

'The referendum campaign was fought against backdrop of people predicting damage to the UK, which hasn't come about,' he said.

'I think it's impossible to imagine the last 200 years of British history without Scots - you couldn't have the BBC.

'We wouldn't have won the Second World War without men like Montgomery and Alanbrooke from Northern Ireland.'

However, he added: 'We need a new unionism, one that bridges not just the nations of the UK but also brings together different generations, old and young, richer areas with those left behind.'

Mr Gove accused the SNP of 'playing with identity politics' by demanding a fresh independence referendum after the Brexit vote.

But he insisted the example of Ukip showed such tactics were failing.

'The decline, indeed eclipse, of Ukip is another blow for identity politics. Once it could command four million votes - now its Chairman compares it to the Black Death,' Mr Gove said.

Denying that the referendum campaign he helped spearhead had focused on identity politics, Mr Gove said: 'Post Brexit we see growing support for immigration. We can be more welcoming to migrants if allowed to be, rather than required to be.' 

Mr Gove also tried to soothe Brexiteer anxiety about the Cabinet accepting the UK could stay tied to the customs union for longer as a 'backstop' to avoid a hard Irish border.

'The whole point about the backstop is that it's intended not to be implemented, but it's there just in case,' he said.

The findings of the SNP's growth commission, set up in 2016 to look at economic policy options for an independent Scotland, are to be published this week.

Ms Sturgeon said the report - expected to make recommendations on whether Scotland should try to keep the Pound if it leaves the UK - will restart the debate on Scotland's future.

The First Minister said today: 'I expect it to be a very positive report, not sugar-coated.

'It will, I hope, be frank about the challenges we face as a country, but also very positive about how independence can equip us to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of the future, and I think that will be quite refreshing in Scotland because the last couple of years have been very much focused on how we limit the damage of Brexit.

'Instead of a debate based on despair, this is an opportunity to turn our minds to a debate that's all about hope, optimism and ambition for Scotland.'

However, Downing Street dismissed the independence campaign. The PM's spokesman said: 'Now is not the time for another divisive independence referendum and there is no appetite for one.'


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