Michael Gove says drug admission will not lead to US travel ban

Tory leadership candidate says is fortunate not to have been jailed for using cocaine

Michael Gove has said his use of cocaine in the past will not lead to him being banned from entering US, as he struggled to get his Tory leadership campaign back on track.

Gove dismissed as “foolish” the idea that American authorities could ban a prime minister from entering their country, even though some UK citizens have been stopped from going to the US after admitting to having taken drugs.

He acknowledged he was “fortunate” not to have been sent to prison for using the class-A drug while a journalist about 20 years ago but said it was unlikely to lead to a travel ban.

Pressed on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show about whether he had ever lied about his drug use to US immigration authorities, Gove said: “I don’t believe that I have ever, on any occasion, failed to tell the truth about this when asked directly.” He said he was not asked about drug use when he became a government minister.

The environment secretary has had to confront a series of difficult questions after his drug use while in his 30s was revealed in a new book by a journalist, Owen Bennett.

Asked if he should have gone to prison, Gove said: “I was fortunate in that I didn’t, but I do think it was a profound mistake and I have seen the damage drugs do. I have seen it close up and I have also seen it in the work that I have done as a politician. That is why I deeply regret the mistake that I made.”

In the wake of the revelations, Sajid Javid, one of Gove’s rivals for the leadership, hit out at middle-class users of class-A drugs who failed to think of the “countless lives destroyed” by the trade.

Javid, the home secretary, said he would not comment directly on Gove’s admission but he said his view was that people taking class-A drugs needed to think about the abuse of young children trafficked into the trade.

He also highlighted the hypocrisy of those who “have their organic food, they boast about buying fair trade, they talk about climate change, and at the same time come Friday or Saturday night they’re all doing drugs – and they should think about the impact they’re having, especially on children with the rise in county gangs.”

Speaking on Sky’s Ridge on Sunday programme, Javid said: “Anyone that takes class-A drugs needs to think about that supply chain that comes, let’s say, from Colombia to Chelsea, and the number of lives that are destroyed along the way. People should be thinking about the impact they’re having on others.”

Gove admitted to the Daily Mail that he had taken cocaine when working as a journalist after he was confronted by revelations from Bennett’s book. It is understood some of his former staff knew about the drug-taking from a meeting during his previous leadership bid.

In a further embarrassment, the Observer reported that in 1999 Gove wrote an article in the Times setting out why he opposed what he called “London’s liberal consensus” on loosening rules on the use of cocaine and other drugs. In the piece, headlined “When it’s right to be a hypocrite”, he set out why he believed drug laws should not be repealed.

With the drugs story overshadowing his campaign, Gove said in the Sunday Telegraph that if he became prime minister he would scrap VAT and replace it with “a lower, simpler sales tax”. He said he would also cut business rates.

He said he would use “the money we get back from the EU” to invest in “towns and communities which have suffered most from de-industrialisation”, and introduce an Australian-style points-based immigration system “to ensure the most innovative and gifted from across the globe can help us prosper”.

Gove’s supporters have said they suspect the cocaine story was leaked by the camp of one of the other candidates as part of a “dirty tricks” operation.

Jeremy Hunt

His style is notably technocratic, with few rhetorical flourishes and an emphasis on his consensual approach and long record as a minister, notably during more than five years as health secretary, a traditional graveyard of ministerial careers. Hunt’s attempts to talk up a backstory as an 'underestimated' entrepreneur can fall flat given he is also the son of an admiral and was head boy at Charterhouse.

Overall, Hunt’s approach can seem uninspiring and hard to pin down in terms of core beliefs, hence the 'Theresa in trousers' nickname among some Tory MPs – one that is more catchy than accurate (since May herself often wears trousers).

In the final round of MP voting Hunt edged out Michael Gove, 77 votes to 75.

Boris Johnson

Johnson’s progress to Downing Street appeared unstoppable even before an overwhelming victory in the first round of voting among MPs. Most of his colleagues believe it is now all but inevitable that he will be Britain’s next prime minister.

His well-disciplined campaign team will continue with their strategy of subjecting him to minimal media exposure, though once the field is narrowed down to two, the final pair will appear in more than a dozen head-to-head hustings for Tory members. The team’s main aim is simply to keep heads down and avoid Johnson creating headlines for the wrong reasons. It may not have worked

Johnson came first in the final round of MP voting with 160 votes.

The episode led to other candidates being asked about whether they had used drugs. Dominic Raab, who has already admitted taking cannabis as a student, told the BBC: “It was a long time ago and pretty few and far between. I have never taken cocaine or any class-A drugs.”

Andrea Leadsom said in a statement: “I have never taken cocaine or class-A drugs. Everyone is entitled to a private life before becoming an MP.”

Javid said he had never taken any drugs. Rory Stewart has said he smoked opium while travelling in Iran. Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, has said he once drank a cannabis lassi in India.

Boris Johnson admitted in a GQ interview in 2007 he had tried cocaine and cannabis while at university, saying it “achieved no pharmacological, psychotropic or any other effect on me whatsoever”.

He later changed his story, saying he was offered a “white substance” at university but none went up his nose because he sneezed. He said he had “no idea whether it was cocaine or not” and it could have been icing sugar.


Rowena Mason Deputy political editor

The GuardianTramp

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