Michael Gove has called on voters to sack “unelected, unaccountable elites” by backing a British exit from the EU in a populist appeal ahead of the referendum.
The UK Justice Secretary dismissed suggestions that the Leave side in the EU referendum campaign had no economic plan, saying he was “glad” the campaign was not backed by large business groups.
Appearing on Sky News, Edinburgh-born Gove’s pitch to voters was summed up during a bad-tempered interview with correspondent Faisal Islam when he claimed: “You’re on the side of the elites, I’m on the side of the people.”
Mr Gove drew in equal measure from scripts used by former first minister Alex Salmond during the Scottish independence referendum campaign and Donald Trump during his Republican presidential nomination race.
He said a UK outside the EU would become a friendly neighbour rather than a grumpy lodger, and pledged that Brexit would allow Britain to be “once more truly great”.
Borrowing a stereotype often used by Scottish Nationalists, Mr Gove claimed a negative and “sneering” Remain campaign was trying to claim the UK was “too small, too poor, and too stupid”. But he denied a Brexit vote would lead to another “nasty, divisive” independence referendum.
“I’m asking the British public to take back control from those organisations that are distant, unaccountable and elitist,” Mr Gove said.
“The people who are backing the Remain campaign are people who have done very well out of the European Union.”
He dismissed the lack of support for the Leave campaign from business groups, saying: “They’re organisations that didn’t predict the global crash in 2008, and are the same organisations in many cases that also said we should be inside the single currency.”
Branding the EU a “job destroying machine”, he said free movement depressed wages and meant young British workers struggled to find entry-level jobs.
“The majority of people in this country are suffering as a result of our membership of the EU,” Mr Gove claimed.
He was unable to provide evidence when challenged, instead citing his father’s business in the Aberdeen fishing industry, which he claimed failed because of the EU.
Asked if he could guarantee jobs would be safe after Brexit, Mr Gove drew applause when he said: “Seventy-three members of the European Parliament will be losing their job.”
Confronted by Mr Islam over the Leave campaign’s controversial claim the UK sends £350 million per week to the EU, despite criticism of the figure from statistics authorities, Mr Gove admitted some of that money was returned but insisted: “We don’t have control of that money.”
He stuck by the figure, saying Britain shouldn’t contribute to “Jean-Claude Juncker’s expense account”.
Answering questions from the audience, Mr Gove claimed international leaders who issued warnings about Brexit had “tried to play the fear card” and would back down on their threats.
Mr Gove concluded with a plea “to think of the next generation. He said: “If we have faith in their talent, in their generosity, in their hard work, we can – if we leave the European Union – ensure the next generation make this country once more truly great.”