By all accounts the headline-making confession of cocaine use by Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in Britain and one of the main contenders for the leadership of the governing Conservative Party, has had little effect on his close relations with the representatives of the Democratic Unionist Party in London and Belfast. The MPs and MLAs of the nominally evangelical DUP have apparently put their worries about Gove’s youthful – or middle-aged – indiscretions to one side, more concerned with his well-known and hardline pro-union credentials. The one-time journalist was one of the chief media critics of the Irish-British peace process in the late 1990s and early 2000s, characterising the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 as an act of surrender to the Irish Republican Army and its thirty-year campaign of armed struggle against Britain’s colonial territory in the north-eastern corner of the island of Ireland. Gove shares – or shared – that view with Arlene Foster, the current leader of the Democratic Unionists and a former member of the agreement-backing Ulster Unionist Party who defected to the anti-agreement DUP in 2004 along with her colleague Jeffrey Donaldson, now a senior DUP MP. So members of Gove’s faction have sought to play up his adopted “orangism” as well as his pragmatic Brexitism, as can be seen in this report by the Belfast Telegraph:
A new biography of Environment Secretary Michael Gove tells of how he closely identified with the politics of Orangeism and had a fascination with the Troubles.
Owen Bennett’s book ‘Michael Gove: A Man in a Hurry’ tells of how the former journalist had “an enormous cartoon of the Ulster Unionist Party in parliament – a great big Orange banner type of affair” hanging in his London flat during the 1990s.
Journalist Sean O’Grady who worked with Mr Gove at the Independent said that the PM hopeful’s politics were “quite orange”.
Mr O’Grady said that the Environment Secretary’s fascination with unionism was a “bit odd” and remembered that “he’d be perfectly happy to sing along with Orange songs – ‘the sash my father wore’, all that sort of stuff”.
Mike Elrick who trained as a journalist with Mr Gove remembered that he was “very, very strongly supportive of Ulster Protestantism, and very much sided with the ‘Protestant’ political parties”.
While considerable efforts are being made by other contenders for the leadership of the Conservative Party to woo the Democratic Unionists its seems improbable that the likes of Boris Johnson and his ilk will gain the trust of the DUP, a party for whom Brexit is primarily a stepping stone to a revived border in Ireland rather than a clean break with the European Union.