In Brief

Michael Gove says 31 October Brexit deadline is ‘arbitrary’

Tory leadership hopeful says he would consider short delay if deal was close

Tory leadership contender Michael Gove regards the UK’s 31 October Brexit deadline as “arbitrary” and says he is “not wedded” to it.

The environment secretary told a hustings event that Britain must not be bound by a “fixed” date if more time is needed to get a deal, but insisted any further delay would be a matter of weeks, not months. 

Writing in the Daily Mail, Gove repeated the point, saying he would be willing to sanction a short delay to allow “a little extra time” if a deal is close.

The Daily Express says Gove’s remarks “sparked fury”, while PoliticsHome notes that his position is “in marked contrast” to a number of his leadership opponents.

“In comments that will infuriate rivals Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab he said those ready to default to a No Deal to get out of the EU by the end of October didn’t appear to ‘believe in this country’,” says The Sun, which warns of a “Tory civil war”.

The BBC’s Chris Mason agrees that his comment “marks the opening up of a clear dividing line in this race” and says his critics “will see it as him going soft”. 

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith was quickly out of the traps to condemn Gove’s position, saying: “The salvation of the Conservative Party lies in getting out on October 31st. It seems he no longer cares about Brexiteers and is playing to another gallery.”

Meanwhile, another Downing Street hopeful, Matt Hancock, has described Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite. In inflammatory remarks, the health secretary said that if Corbyn became prime minister, the UK “could end up with the first anti-Semitic leader of a Western nation since the Second World War”.

Labour called it a “baseless political attack”. A party source said Hancock’s words “ring hollow from a minister in a party that has supported governments that actively promote anti-Semitic policies in Hungary and Poland and has spent the week wooing Trump, the man who refused to condemn neo-fascists in Charlottesville who chanted ‘Jews will not replace us’”.

In other developments in the leadership race, former Brexit secretary Raab has refused to rule out working with Nigel Farage or proroguing parliament to stop MPs blocking a no-deal Brexit, while Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has rejected comparisons between himself and the current prime minister, saying: “I am not Theresa in trousers.”

Eleven candidates are battling to succeed May as Tory leader and prime minister. The winner of the contest will be announced at the end of July.

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