Good morning. It is five years to the day since the referendum on leaving the EU, which to the surprise of many people – including some of the leading leave campaigners – led to a vote for Brexit. To mark the occasion, Boris Johnson has released a surprisingly low-key and non-triumphalist statement, saying: “The decision to leave the EU may now part of our history, but our clear mission is to utilise the freedoms it brings to shape a better future for our people.” In an interview with the Times, João Vale de Almeida, the EU ambassador to the UK, pointed out that it was hard to know how Brexit would play out in the long term. He said:
I don’t know what our relationship will be in 20 years’ time. I don’t know what the EU will be like in 20 years. And maybe I don’t know what your union here will be like in 20 years’ time. Who knows? So we have to be ready for change.
In 2017 some Brexiters thought that the UK’s departure could lead to the break-up of the EU. Now it seems more probable that, over the medium term at least, it might lead to the break-up of the UK.
And on that topic this morning this morning there has been an important development. Ever since Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, formally started calling for a second independence referendum in March 2017, the UK government’s response – under Theresa May, and then Boris Johnson – has been to say not now. May argued that the time was not right because the country was preoccupied with Brexit, and Johnson argued that the time was not right because of Covid.
Today, in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Michael Gove, who as Cabinet Office minister has a special role in overseeing union matters, has gone further, effectively ruling out a second referendum until after the next general election. In his write-up of the interview, Ben Riley-Smith says:
Asked whether he could imagine “any circumstance” in which Mr Johnson would agree to a second referendum before the 2024 election, [Gove] said: “I don’t think so.
“The prime minister is completely focused on making sure that, for the lifetime of this parliament, we increase economic opportunity, we provide people with the chance to make more of their lives, take control of their futures.”
Asked whether it was “pretty clear” from the response that his position was “no referendum before the 2024 election”, Mr Gove doubled down, saying: “I can’t see it.”
Gove also told the Telegraph that Johnson was more popular than people assumed in Scotland and that he should visit the country more often. Gove said:
One of the things that I think people consistently underestimate is the degree of connection, personal and emotional, that the people across the country have for the prime minister.
I think there’s a myth that has been built up, fed by Scottish nationalists, that somehow the prime minister doesn’t go down well in Scotland. In my experience I’ve seen folk in Orkney, folk in Aberdeenshire, responding as warmly to the prime minister as people in Oxfordshire or Hartlepool.
I think it’s an SNP mind game, as it were, to try to suggest that somehow the prime minister of the United Kingdom shouldn’t set foot in part of the United Kingdom.
In his report Riley-Smith adds:
Asked whether the prime minister is a help or hindrance to keeping the three-centuries-old union intact, [Gove] does not pause. “A help.” So should he visit Scotland more often? A one-word answer: “Yes.”
Here is the agenda for the day.
9.30am: Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, gives evidence to the Commons Northern Ireland affairs committee.
10am: Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, gives evidence to the Commons education committee.
10am: Dame Vera Baird, the victims’ commissioner, gives evidence to the Commons home affairs committee about rape prosecutions.
12pm: Boris Johnson faces Sir Keir Starmer at PMQs.
12.30pm: Helen Whately, the social care minister, responds to a Commons urgent question about social care.
1.30pm: Downing Street is expected to hold its daily lobby briefing.
2pm: Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, gives evidence to the Commons defence committee about global Britain.
4pm: Sir Kevan Collins, who resigned recently from his post as the government’s education recovery commissioner, speaks at the Festival of Education.
Politics Live has been a mix of Covid and non-Covid news recently and that is likely to be the case today. For more coronavirus developments, do follow our global Covid live blog.
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