UK Politics

Michael Gove admits Tory leadership 'mistakes'

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Media captionMichael Gove tells Radio 4's World At One he is not guilty of betrayal

Former cabinet minister Michael Gove has admitted making "mistakes" during the Conservative leadership election.

He initially backed fellow pro-Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson, before announcing that he would himself stand.

He told BBC Radio 4's The World At One he should have "paused and reflected before backing Mr Johnson" or stuck with him after making the decision.

Mr Gove called Mr Johnson "phenomenally talented" and said Theresa May was the right choice as party leader and PM.

The former justice secretary and education secretary campaigned against his long-term friend, former Prime Minister David Cameron, in supporting the Leave campaign during the Brexit referendum campaign.

He told The World at One they had not spoken for "some time" since, following reports that they are no longer on amicable terms.

In his first broadcast interview since leaving the cabinet when Mrs May became prime minister, Mr Gove - now a backbench MP - said he would "happily" return to frontline politics if asked.

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Image caption Michael Gove changed his mind about supporting Boris Johnson as Tory leader and PM

During the leadership election, held in the fraught atmosphere following the UK's vote to leave the EU, Mr Gove initially said he was supporting Mr Johnson. He then changed his mind and decided to run himself, publicly questioning Mr Johnson's ability to do the job.

He said, with hindsight, he should have pronounced an "alternative view, rather than passing any commentary or judgement on Boris".

After Mrs May entered Downing Street, Mr Johnson entered the cabinet as foreign secretary, while Mr Gove remains on the Conservative back benches.

He said: "I think he's been a success as foreign secretary. He's had some criticism from some on the way he's handled Russia, Syria and so on. I think he's been right."

Mr Gove said those who accused Mr Johnson of backing the Leave campaign to further his own career were wrong, adding: "He decided to do what he thought was right for the country."

They had both found it difficult to tell Mr Cameron they were going to campaign against him over Brexit, he added.

Mr Gove also said that with hindsight Mrs May was "the right leader at the right time" and that "if the chance came to serve again" in the cabinet, he would "happily say yes".

But he was "very happy" on the back benches and would be standing again at the next election as MP for Surrey Heath, which he has represented since 2005.

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