MPs could undo the Chequers deal once the UK has left the EU, Michael Gove has claimed, saying the prime minister’s proposal was the “right one for now”.
The environment secretary, a prominent Brexiter, has regularly made a similar case in private to MPs, urging them to back May to see through Britain’s exit rather than risk an impasse in parliament or a general election.
If the EU changed its rules to disadvantage Britain, he said, it would be up to parliament to “chart this nation’s destiny” and potentially change the relationship, he said.
Asked if the prime minister’s plan was permanent, he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “Yes, but there’s one critical thing, a future prime minister could always choose to alter the relationship between Britain and the European Union.
“But the Chequers approach is the right one for now because we have got to make sure that we respect that vote and take advantage of the opportunities of being outside the European Union.”
Gove said the UK had shown flexibility and that it was now for the EU to show some willingness to compromise.
“I’ve compromised,” he added. “I’ve been quite clear that some of the things that I argued for in the referendum passionately, as a result of Chequers I have to qualify one or two of my views. I have to acknowledge the parliamentary arithmetic.
“I believe the critical thing is making sure we leave in good order with a deal which safeguards the referendum mandate.”
Conservative MPs who oppose the Chequers deal, including the former Brexit secretary, David Davis, are to ramp up public opposition in the coming weeks with a series of rallies across the country.
Davis will share a platform with the former Ukip leader Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg, the chair of the hard Brexit European Research Group of MPs. Others who will speak at the rallies, organised by the pro-Brexit campaign group Leave Means Leave, include the former Brexit minister David Jones and the former environment secretary Owen Paterson, as well as the Labour MP Kate Hoey.
The rallies will kick off next Saturday in Bolton with Farage, Davis and Hoey, an event that organisers say has almost sold out. Other rallies will take place in Birmingham during the Conservative party conference and continue on to Torquay, Bournemouth, Gateshead and Harrogate.
Richard Tice, the vice-chair of Leave Means Leave, said: “Leave Means Leave will be travelling across the country to make the case that the prime minister should chuck the Chequers plan and save £39bn.
“The cross-party nature of the campaign proves how important this battle is. Party politics has been put to one side to secure what is best for Britain’s future.”
Gove was also asked about Hungary’s hard right prime minister Viktor Orban after Tory MEPs opposed a censure motion against the Hungarian government in the European parliament this week.
Gove said he had “views” about Mr Orban but was “not going to be drawn” into giving an assessment of individual leaders.
“It’s not for me to rank a league table of EU leaders and to say that one is my favourite or that one have less time for,” he said. “Because I believe in cooperative diplomacy – I believe in generosity of spirit towards EU partners.”
His remarks drew immediate criticism. Conservative pundit Iain Dale said on Twitter that he was “very disappointed” in Gove’s words, while the Labour MP David Lammy said that the remarks displayed “complete moral bankruptcy”.