Rishi Sunak says he is a 'proud' Brexiteer after Gove attends summit
Rishi Sunak says he is a ‘proud’ Brexiteer as No10 suggests he didn’t know Michael Gove was attending ‘secret’ summit with top Remainers on how to boost ties with the EU
- Brexiteers anxious there could be an attempt to reestablish close ties with EU
Rishi Sunak insisted he is a ‘proud’ Brexiteer today as No10 suggested he was not aware Michael Gove was attending a ‘secret’ summit on how to improve ties with the EU.
The Levelling Up Secretary was a participant at a two-day conference looking at ways of boosting cooperation with Brussels.
Others present included shadow foreign secretary David Lammy, Peter Mandelson and Theresa May’s Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins.
They met at Ditchley Park, an historic estate near Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire that frequently hosts extended discussions of current policy issues.
Downing Street dodged criticising Mr Gove for attending the gathering, which took place during the working week and has prompted fears from Eurosceptics of an attempt to water down Brexit.
However, the PM’s spokesman indicated that Mr Sunak had no knowledge of the summit until it was reported over the weekend.
Rishi Sunak insisted he is a ‘proud’ Brexiteer today as No10 suggested he was not aware Michael Gove was attending a ‘secret’ summit on how to improve ties with the EU
The group met at Ditchley Park, an historic estate near Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire that frequently hosts extended discussions of current policy issues
Lord Frost (right), the UK’s former chief Brexit negotiator, was among those reacting angrily to the summit attended by Mr Gove (left)
Mr Sunak told broadcasters during a visit to Oldham: ‘I was proud to vote for Brexit and now as Prime Minister I’m keen to make sure we deliver the benefits of it.’
He said the UK had already ‘taken control’ of immigration system and was rolling out freeports, adding: ‘Now what we want to do is make sure we drive growth in our economy by seizing the opportunities of Brexit to do things differently.’
But he declined to say whether or not he supported the conference, saying: ‘It is not about the meeting, I’m talking about what the Government is doing, and that’s making sure we capitalise on the benefits of Brexit.’
Mr Gove, who spearheaded the Vote Leave campaign in 2016 with Boris Johnson, was reported to have been ‘honest’ about the shortcomings of Brexit, while stressing he still believed it would end up being the right decision.
What is Ditchley Park?
Ditchley was founded in 1958 by the philanthropist Sir David Wills.
He funded the charity to support the Transatlantic Alliance between the US and Europe, bringing leading thinkers and decision makes together to tackle the biggest issues of the day.
It regularly holds conference lasting two-three days at the estate in Oxfordshire.
A recent event focused on how to revive the economy, and another is scheduled on the future of artificial intelligence.
Many well-known names act as governors of the charity, including David Cameron, Michael Gove, David Miliband and Lord Mandelson.
However, one source suggested the idea it was secret was ‘nonsense’ and Mr Gove was only there because he is a governor of Ditchley Park – which holds regular such summits in a variety of topics.
The event was described a ‘quite dull’ with ‘no relevance’ to negotiations in the Northern Ireland protocol or ‘significance for government policy’.
Former Cabinet ministers Lord Michael Howard Lord Norman Lamont were also said to have participated.
No 10 suggested the Prime Minister had not been aware of the summit until the news emerged at the weekend, adding that ‘it wasn’t a Government-organised event’.
Asked about Mr Gove using his time to attend such conferences, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘He’s very confident the secretary of state is working hard for the British people.’
Lord Frost, the UK’s former chief Brexit negotiator, was among those reacting angrily to the summit.
He told the Daily Mail: ‘This secret conference is a further piece of evidence that many in our political and business establishment want to unravel the deals we did to exit the EU in 2020 and to stay shadowing the EU instead.
‘Brexit doesn’t need ‘fixing’.
‘It needs this Conservative Government, elected with a huge mandate on a Brexit programme, to fully and enthusiastically embrace its advantages instead of leaving the field to those who never wanted it in the first place.’
Nigel Farage used the summit as evidence that a ‘full sell-out of Brexit is under way’.
Conservative former minister Sir John Redwood added: ‘Instead of talking of sell-out at private conferences the UK establishment needs to complete Brexit and use its freedoms.’
There are signs the UK and the EU are approaching a solution to trade issues arising from the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol.
But British officials were not expecting an announcement this week.
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