British PM hopeful Gove says no EU exit talks this year

Published 8:37 am Friday, July 1, 2016

LONDON — Justice Secretary Michael Gove argued Friday that he should be Britain’s next leader because he is passionately committed to leaving the European Union — but said he would not trigger EU exit talks this year if he becomes prime minister.

His comments are likely to upset and annoy EU leaders, who have put strong pressure on Britain to start talks soon on leaving the 28-nation bloc.

Gove, one of the leaders of the victorious campaign to quit the bloc, is among five Conservatives running to replace Prime Minister David Cameron, who resigned after losing last week’s referendum on EU membership.

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Uncertainty about the country’s future ties with the EU is weighing heavily on the British economy, prompting Treasury chief George Osborne to announce he was abandoning the government’s long-held goal of achieving a budget surplus by 2020.

In a speech Friday, Osborne said the referendum result is “likely to lead to a significant negative shock for the British economy.”

“We will continue to be tough on the deficit but we must be realistic about achieving a surplus by the end of this decade,” he said.

Osborne, a close ally of Cameron, has ruled himself out of the Conservative leadership race.

The Conservative government elected in 2010 has cut billions from public spending in a bid to eliminate a budget deficit that’s expected to hit 75.6 billion pounds ($100 billion) this year.

Osborne, who argued during the campaign that Britain should stay in the EU, had estimated that a vote to leave would hurt public finances to the tune of 30 billion pounds.

Spelling out his leadership pitch Friday, Gove said he should be the next prime minister because Britain needs to be led by someone who genuinely believes in leaving the EU.

Gove said he had been advocating a British exit, or Brexit, for 20 years. His leading rival for the Tory leadership, Home Secretary Theresa May, backed the “remain” campaign in last week’s referendum.

“The best person to lead Britain out of the European Union is someone who argued to get Britain out of the European Union,” Gove said. “This country voted for change, and I am going to deliver it.”

Also in the running are Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb, Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom and former Defense Secretary Liam Fox.

The result of the Conservative leadership race will be announced Sept. 9 and the new leader will be the person to trigger Article 50 of the EU constitution — the formal mechanism that begins two years of exit talks.