Michael Gove – 2016 Speech on Why UK Should Leave European Union

The speech made by Michael Gove on 8 June 2016.

I want to thank Dominic for the masterly way in which he has laid out the security risks of staying in an unreformed European Union. With the precision of a great lawyer and the clarity of a truly gifted minister he has made an unarguable case.

Of course our security rests on the robustness of our borders, the rigour of our surveillance and intelligence systems and the ability of the police and other agencies to take all the necessary steps to keep us safe.

These are vital policy and operational questions. As Dominic has shown, we currently lack the control we need to maximise our resilience against a range of new threats.

I want to touch on one other area where we need to feel a greater degree of confidence if we are to safeguard our society in the future. The question of values. Liberal, democratic, values.


If we consider the threats we face today they are – in their origin – ideological. Conflict in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was driven primarily by competition between empires and nation states whereas conflict today is driven increasingly by competition between ideologies.

The terror threat from ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda and their brothers in Hamas and Hizbollah springs from Islamist fundamentalism. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is driven by an anti-liberal, anti-democratic ideology rooted in an imagined Russian past and revived by figures like Alexander Dugin who see their country providing an alternative to the post-Christian and decadent West.

If we are to safeguard our country, and indeed our allies, in this world of new dangers then we need not just the right tools, policies and institutions, the right policing, data-gathering and security forces, we also need to be resolute in our support for the right values.

The United Kingdom has played a distinguished global role in the past as an upholder and defender of liberal democratic values – all the while doing so as an independent democratic nation state.

Whether it was suppressing the slave trade, or supporting liberal nationalist movements against static autocratic European empires, in the first half of the nineteenth century or seeking to defend the rights of small nations and the principle of self-determination in the twentieth century, the United Kingdom has been clear about its values. And the clearer and more confident we’ve been about our values, the better we’ve been able to defend those values.

A belief in parliamentary democracy, in the accountability of the powerful to the people, in the settling of laws, taxes and rules by elected representatives, in the independence and objectivity of the judiciary, and in vigorous free speech and open debate – these beliefs have characterised this country for centuries. And it’s by standing firm by those values that we have been able to be a global champion for freedom, working with our allies, for many generations.

Liberal and democratic values are, of course, very far from being a British possession alone. Ludwig Erhard and Karl Popper, Theodore Herzl and David Ben-Gurion, Alexis de Tocqueville and Raymond Aron, Hernando de Soto and Aung San Suu Kyi are all great liberals and democrats who embody the best in shared humanist values.


But while these values have universal application they are, history tells us, best upheld and defended by nation states.

That is one of the central reasons why this debate on our membership of the European Union matters so much.

If power is to be held accountable it needs a democratic culture and a common electorate to hold it to account. That means a nation state.

And if a nation state is to be sustainable it needs to know its borders and enjoy a sense of shared allegiance.

Despite the idealism which attended its birth, the EU is not democratic. The people who guide its destiny – the Five Presidents of Europe – have never been directly elected to their current offices, are in no way democratically accountable, indeed their identities are scarcely known to most of Europe’s citizens. Even one of my most intelligent – and most pro-European Union – friends the editor of the Financial Times Lionel Barber – when questioned last week couldn’t name all five.

The EU is indeed actually designed purposely to frustrate democracy. Its institutions exist to transfer power away from accountable parliaments in liberal nation states to the supra-national level.

Of no institution is this more true than the European Court of Justice. The ECJ is, as Dominic pointed out, a court with an activist agenda to advance integration and erode national sovereignty.

It has been given a hugely powerful tool to advance its agenda in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which came into force in 2009 and which goes much, much further than the post-war European Convention on Human Rights.

We believed we had an opt-out from the operation of the Charter nailed down at the time of the Lisbon Treaty.

But the ECJ — against which there is no right of appeal — has now made it clear this so-called opt-out was nothing of the kind.

The Luxembourg judges simply disregard it when making rulings based on the Charter, for example on applying the 1951 UN Convention on Asylum and Refugees.

The Luxembourg Court’s willingness to set aside agreements between nation states is not just troubling in itself as evidence of how an elitist institution at the heart of the EU seeks to override democratic principles, it should also give us warning that agreements made in good faith – like the renegotiation we secured in February – can also be overridden in future.

If the Court believes an agreement between states runs counter to its own interpretation of the Treaties then the Court will insist on its will being done. As Denmark found when agreements made in the aftermath of its rejection of the Maastricht Treaty were overridden by the Court.

It’s not just the Court which is prepared to set aside agreements and rip up acts which stand in the way of its integrationist agenda. When the euro ran into, inevitable, difficulties the EU set aside its own rules to provide bailouts for Greece.

Article 125 of the EU Treaty could not be clearer when it states ‘the Union shall not be liable for, or assume the commitments of, central governments, regional, local or other public authorities, other bodies governed by public law, or public undertakings of any Member State.’

Yet that clear legal declaration was ignored when it got in the way of keeping the eurozone going. The EU has shown it is willing to cast aside solemn agreements and trample over the rule of law if integration is threatened.

The high-handedness and undemocratic nature of EU institutions, the ongoing failure of the euro and the economic misery it has brought have all contributed to a weakening of liberal and democratic forces across Europe.

Extremist and populist forces have grown in strength. A far-right party in Austria has come within an ace of the Presidency, an openly anti-semitic party is the second force in Hungarian politics, Marine Le Pen is in pole position for the French Presidency. The growth in fringe parties has made it much more difficult to form stable governments in EU states such as Spain and Ireland and has brought Nazis into the Greek Parliament. Our ability to present a united front across the West in defence of liberalism and democracy is currently vitiated and undermined by the operation of the EU and its institutions.

Being more muscular in our liberalism and more insistent on democracy

The weakening of nation states in Europe has not been accompanied, however, by any upsurge of faith, confidence or loyalty towards EU institutions. Quite the opposite. They command no popular affection, inspire no popular admiration, enjoy no popular enthusiasm.

And because nation states are less able to assert and embody liberal and democratic values, while EU institutions lack liberal and democratic legitimacy, the forces of liberalism and democracy have been weakened just when they need to be asserted more vigorously than ever.

Our Prime Minister has been right, and brave, in arguing forcefully that we need to take on the poisonous narrative peddled by Islamist extremists.

But in order to counter Islamist extremists as effectively as possible we need not just to challenge their beliefs but assert confidence in our own.

That means strengthening national parliaments, not weakening them, upholding the rule of law not abrogating it and, above all, expressing confidence in nation states and the democratic accountability they bring. The more confident and optimistic we are about the United Kingdom, its traditions, values and potential the better equipped we are to counter enemies of liberalism and democracy.

And there are particular times when the assertion of our liberalism needs to be especially muscular.

Nowhere more so than when the essential freedom – freedom of speech – is threatened.

Which brings me to the case of Turkey.

That country’s democratic development has been put into reverse under President Erdogan.

The country which achieved so much under the secular nationalism of Ataturk and his successors is now moving backwards under Erdogan and his Islamist rule.

The NGO Freedom House has found that freedom of expression is being ‘undermined by provisions in the penal code, the criminal procedure code, and the harsh, broadly worded anti-terrorism law’.

Journalists who seek to expose corruption have been arrested and efforts to investigate Turkish relationships with fighters in Syria have been thwarted.

Erdogan’s assault on free speech doesn’t stop at his own borders.

Erdogan demanded – and won – Angela Merkel’s agreement to the prosecution of the German comedian Jan Böhmermann for producing a lewd poem about him.

We and the European Union should be protesting in the clearest and loudest possible manner at this erosion of fundamental democratic freedoms.

But instead we and the European Union are making concession after concession to Erdogan.

Let’s look at the facts.

Fact One. It is official British Government policy for Turkey to join the EU, restated by Ministers time and again.

Fact Two. It is official EU policy for Turkey to become a member. Indeed the Commission has announced the pace of accession will be accelerated.

Fact Three. Turkey has threatened to end cooperation in stopping mass migration unless the deal for visa-free travel to Europe is implemented in full.

Fact Four. This visa-free zone which stretches from Turkey’s border with Syria, Iraq and Iran to the English channel is anticipated to start this year once this referendum is out of the way. Sir Richard Dearlove, former chief of MI6, has warned that this is like ‘storing gasoline next to the fire we are trying to put out’.

Fact Five. The British Government is spending nearly £2 billion to help five countries join the EU including Albania, Serbia, and Turkey.

Fact Six. It is official British Government policy not to have a referendum on new countries joining. As As things stand, the British people won’t be given a vote in the future on Turkish accession. We were not offered a referendum when Bulgaria, Romania or 17 other states joined. Your only chance to have a say on this is on 23 June.

With the terrorism threat we face only growing, it is hard to see how it could possibly be in our security interests to open visa free travel to 77 million Turkish citizens and create a border-free zone from Iraq, Iran and Syria to the English Channel.

It is even harder to see how such a course is wise when extremists everywhere will see that the West is opening its borders to appease an Islamist Government.

We have a chance on June 23rd to signal with our votes that we want to follow a different course. That we believe in democracy, that we have confidence in our country and its values, that we want the EU at last to get the jolt it needs to change, that we want fundamental liberties upheld, we want to take control of our destiny and we want to stand resolute for freedom. I hope the people for this country take that opportunity, and that stand, and Vote to leave and take back control.