Conservative Party leadership hopeful Michael Gove has insisted he is in the race to become the next prime minister “to win it” after his admission of cocaine use led to calls for him to withdraw.
The Environment Secretary reiterated his regret at taking the drug in the 1990s, as the revelation continued to cast a shadow over him as he launched his bid for Number 10.
But Mr Gove, when asked if it was time to call it a day, declared: “I’m in it to win it.”
He listed the challenges he faced in the various Cabinet posts he had held, and said: “Every time I’ve been given a job, I’ve been told it’s impossible, and have delivered.”
Mr Gove told journalists and MPs at his leadership launch: “I explained … my regret at my past mistakes.
“But one of the consequences of having had the chance to reflect on my mistakes is that when I was justice secretary, I was determined to ensure that those people who had fallen into the net of the criminal justice system were given all the support, the help and the care they needed in order to achieve redemption and to enjoy a second chance.”
Mr Gove set out a series of policy pledges atop Millbank Tower in Westminster, with his wife, columnist Sarah Vine, watching from the front row – alongside Education Secretary Damian Hinds and former education secretary Nicky Morgan.
On Brexit, which he described as an “unashamedly personal” matter for him, he said he would be prepared to delay Britain’s withdrawal beyond October 31 if negotiations with the EU on a new deal were making progress.
Mr Gove said that if, in those circumstances, the UK was to leave without a deal, it would lead to a Labour government.
“There would be a vote of confidence in the House of Commons that the Government would lose, there would be a general election. We would have Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street by Christmas,” he said.
“So yes, I would be willing to delay for a day, or a week, or whatever is required to get that deal over the line if we were making progress.”
He said that one of the reasons why Britain had still not left the EU was because some of those involved in the negotiations had not really believed in Brexit.
“I think some of them felt this was a problem to be managed rather than an opportunity to be grasped.
“But you know what? It is not enough just to believe in Brexit. You have also got to be able to deliver on it.
“One of my concerns when I was out of government and on the backbenches is that we triggered Article 50 without a proper plan for Brexit. I have a proper plan to deliver Brexit.”
Mr Gove vowed to never use the tax and benefits system to “give the already wealthy another tax cut” – in an apparent dig at some of his rivals’ policies – and pledged to “abolish business rates for the small and medium-sized enterprises that are at the heart of our high streets”.
He suggested he could introduce a new sales tax because “VAT is a regressive and complicated tax that hits the poor hardest”.
The Cabinet minister also predicted he would be in the final two in the leadership race against Boris Johnson, whom he urged not to “pull out”.
“If I get through, which I’m sure I will actually, to the final two, against Mr Johnson, this is what I will say to him: ‘Mr Johnson, whatever you do, don’t pull out. I know you have before and I know you may not believe in your heart that you can do it but the Conservative Party membership deserve a choice’.”