Brexit campaigner Michael Gove decides leave means leave

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Michael Gove, one of the best-known and most controversial figures in Conservative politics of recent times, has drawn a line under a Westminster career spanning almost 20 years.

“The chance to serve is wonderful,” Gove said in a resignation letter. “But there comes a time when you know that it is time to leave — that a new generation should lead.”

Gove, housing secretary in Rishi Sunak’s government, joins an exodus of almost 80 Tory MPs standing down before the July 4 election, many of them fearing imminent defeat in the polls.

The 56-year-old Gove was confident he could win his Surrey Heath seat, where he was first elected in 2005, but even an 18,349 majority was seen as surmountable by his principal opponents, the Liberal Democrats.

In any event, the prospect of years in opposition was unlikely to appeal to a minister with a strong record in office: many Tory MPs name Gove as one of the most successful reformers the party has had since it took office in 2010.

He made his name as education secretary in David Cameron’s first coalition government, promoting school reforms that he claimed in his resignation letter had helped to lift Britain up international league tables.

Gove later went on to become a liberal-minded justice secretary, an energetic environment secretary and, latterly, a champion of the rights of tenants — running into opposition from many Tory MPs who are landlords.

But Gove is perhaps best remembered — and reviled in some quarters — for his role in leading the Leave campaign in the 2016 Brexit referendum, a role that pitted him against his old friend Cameron.

In the same year came the moment which earned him a reputation for treachery, when he stabbed Boris Johnson in the back as his Vote Leave colleague campaigned to succeed Cameron as Tory leader.

Gove’s decision to dump Johnson — he had been his campaign manager — and to stand as his rival entered the annals of Westminster infamy. “Everybody knows I made a mistake then,” Gove admitted five years later.

After that episode Gove was often suspected of being behind many Tory plots at Westminster, indeed Brexiters were among those least trustful of his motives.

However, he was also popular among many colleagues — including MPs from other parties — with his old-school courtesy, attention to detail and witty performances at the despatch box.

In his resignation letter, Gove said he was proud of his role in securing Brexit, claiming it had allowed Britain “to take back control of our political destiny”.

He admitted that he had “undoubtedly made mistakes” but said he had “always tried to be a voice for those who have been overlooked and undervalued”.

“I have tried to fight for greater social justice. My education reforms were designed to build a country where everyone — no matter their background — can become the authors of their own life stories,” he added.

Gove was born Graeme Andrew Logan in 1967 but was put into care soon after his birth. He was adopted by a couple from Aberdeen at the age of four months and went on to attend Robert Gordon’s College and Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford.

Before entering politics — and in interludes in his ministerial career — Gove was a prominent journalist with a career that included working on The Times. A favourite of Rupert Murdoch, many expect him to return to frontline journalism after leaving politics.

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