The Slatest

This Week in Brexit: The U.K. Might Leave the EU Without a Deal Because Michael Gove Used to Do Coke

Photo of cocaine overlaid with the EU flag, one star blinking.
Animation by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photo by Douglas Sacha/Getty Images.

It’s Tory leadership contest time, and I’m jittering with excitement! There’ve been plenty of bumps along the way, some candidates have flaked, and the quality of those who remain may not be the purest, but we’re over the line and it’s time to rock. Time to put our heads down and blow through this.

This week in Boris: Conservative MPs held the first round of voting for a new leader to replace Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday, and it brought very good news for Boris Johnson. The spotlight-hogging former mayor of London who became the face of the Brexit referendum’s “leave” campaign, before serving for a time as Theresa May’s foreign secretary, finished first with 114 votes. His closest competitor, current Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, got 43.

Last week, I took a look at the 11 declared candidates for the top job. One of them, Sam Gyimah—the only hopeful favoring a second referendum on Brexit—dropped out on Tuesday when it became clear he lacked enough support to advance. In the first round of voting, any candidates receiving fewer than 17 votes were eliminated. That means so long and thanks for playing to MPs Andrea Leadsom, Mark Harper, and Esther McVey.

The seven men (they are all men) who remain will face off in another round of voting next week, in which candidates receiving fewer than 33 votes will miss the cut. (Dominic Raab, Sajid Javid, Matt Hancock, and Rory Stewart are currently below that line.) Votes will continue to be held until the field is whittled down to two, at which point the wider party membership will vote by mail.

The conventional wisdom is that if Johnson makes it to the last round, the job is his: He’s very popular with rank-and-file conservative voters. So if MPs, who are a bit less fond of him, want to stop him, they have to do it now.

It doesn’t look like that’s happening. There was early talk about a “stop Boris” campaign among moderate MPs, but it seems like they decided he’s more palatable than Raab, who’s more of a conventional right-winger on non-Brexit issues. (There are some of those!) It’s looking like it’s going to be nearly impossible to win this race without proving your Brexiteer bona fides. Stewart, the only candidate left who’s resolutely opposed to a no-deal Brexit, is barely hanging on with 19 votes.

This week in cocaine: Until recently, Environment Secretary Michael Gove looked like one of Johnson’s strongest competitors. Along with Johnson, he was one of the most prominent backers of “leave,” giving him Brexiteer credibility, but he’s had a softer stance than some of his competitors and has said he’s prepared to delay Brexit until 2020 if necessary to avoid a no-deal. (Johnson wants to negotiate a new deal but says he’ll put the U.K. out on Oct. 31, the current deadline, no matter what. Whether he really means that is another matter.)

But Gove’s candidacy was damaged this week by, of all things, the revelation that he used to use cocaine. He admitted in an interview last week that he was “fortunate” not to have been sent to prison, after a new book reported that he had used the drug several times while he was a political journalist around 20 years ago. (The interviewer also asked him about the possibility he could be barred from travel to the U.S. because of his coke-sniffing past. This would be a little ridiculous, given that it appears not even suspected ethnic cleansing suffices as grounds for barring a foreign leader from traveling to the U.S.)

In the wake of the cocaine scandal, Gove’s campaign was put on the defensive and has lost momentum. He was accused of hypocrisy, including by his rival Sajid Javid, the tough-on-crime home secretary, who mused on “middle-class” drug users: “They have organic food, they boast about climate change, they talk about the environment, and at the same time, come Friday or Saturday night, they are ordering class A drugs.” Gove has become a personification of an out-of-touch “metro elite” that thinks it’s above the law.

That critique might be relevant if Gove were running against someone other than Boris Johnson, a man not exactly known for his down-to-earth personal rectitude. Johnson has talked about trying cocaine at university, though he claims it had no effect on him, and evaded questions on the issue this week. As with his friend Donald Trump, it seems like certain personal failings that hurt other politicians are simply priced in for Johnson.

Naturally, Cocainegate has led to all the other candidates being asked about their druggy pasts. Rory Stewart admitted to smoking opium at a wedding in Iran, because of course he did.

This week in Europe: Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Rally party, this week unveiled a new far-right, euroskeptic grouping in the European Parliament. In addition to Le Pen’s party, the Identity and Democracy group will include Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini’s League party and Germany’s far-right Alternative für Deutschland, among others. The group, which aims to devolve power to national governments from Brussels, will be the fifth largest in the new Parliament, after the surging Greens.

They had hoped for more: The ID group tried and failed to sign up a number of parties including Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party—the big winner in Britain’s EU elections—foiling its plans to become the third largest bloc.

While the parties in ID are highly critical of the EU and want to cede more power to national governments, they are mostly not calling for actually leaving the union. Even on the far right, that idea is a lot less popular after Brexit.

Days until next deadline: 141