Michael Gove, the most pro-Israel candidate to replace Theresa May as leader of the UK Conservative Party and prime minister, is in trouble and facing multiple accusations of hypocrisy after admitting using cocaine on “several occasions” two decades ago.
“About 20 years ago before I was married, I did take drugs,” the country’s environment secretary told the Daily Mail, adding it happened “on several occasions at social events. It was something I deeply regret. Drugs damage lives… it was a mistake.”
The 51-year-old Tory MP said he was “a young journalist” when he decided to take cocaine, and that he had not envisaged going into politics at the time.
“I look back and I think, ‘I wish I hadn’t done that.’ But I don’t believe that past mistakes disqualify you,” he added.
Since the admission was published on Saturday, rival candidates have mounted attacks on Gove, with other Tory and other politicians saying he was displaying double standards by pushing for strict drug laws and having presided over a policy of firing teachers for drug use while having used cocaine himself.
He has also lost the support of key party member Amber Rudd, who endorsed rival Jeremy Hunt.
“It cannot be that those that govern us are subject to a lower standard of criminality than those who are being governed,” said the party’s former co-chairman Sayeeda Warsi. “Michael Gove needs to step away from the leadership race. It’s completely inappropriate for him to continue.”
There has also been speculation that Gove could be prevented from travelling to the United States over his drug use, a scenario he has dismissed as “foolish.” Lawyer Melissa Chavin said US authorities could refer him to an assessment of mental health “if they wanted to make a fuss over it.”
The doctor would have to be convinced he hasn’t taken any substances for 10-15 years, she said. Otherwise, he could face a six- or 12-month ban.
Another issue was whether he has lied to US authorities before traveling to the country in the past. A visa waiver form for British citizens asks applicants “Have you ever violated any law related to possessing, using or distributing illegal drugs?”
“I don’t believe that I’ve ever on any occasion failed to tell the truth about this when asked directly,” he told the BBC, with his spokesperson later saying he had received legal advice and that his forms were completed correctly.
Gove, a one-time close ally of David Cameron, is a staunch supporter of Israel and the British Jewish community. He’s been described by the Jewish Chronicle as “the most ardent Zionist in the government” and had issued repeated warnings about the threat of anti-Semitism — delivered long before Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to the Labour leadership.
Last year, he delivered a rousing speech to the Tory conference in which he pledged the party’s “unshakable solidarity with the Jewish community.” Attacking Corbyn, he declared: “When our Jewish friends and neighbors live in fear for their futures, let us stand with them.”
Gove was the latest candidate in the race to replace Prime Minister May to acknowledge using banned substances.
Foreign Secretary Hunt told the Times he drank a “cannabis lassi” while backpacking in India in his youth. International Development Secretary Rory Stewart told the Telegraph he smoked opium at a wedding in Iran 15 years ago.
Rival Dominic Raab, who previously admitted smoking cannabis as a student, told the BBC he admired Gove’s honesty. He says he won’t criticize anyone for “holding their hand up and saying ‘I got that wrong.'”
May stepped down as Conservative leader on Friday and formally triggered the race for a successor — currently being contested by Gove and 10 other MPs — but will remain prime minister until a new leader is chosen.
The leader of the party, which won the most seats at the last general election in 2017, automatically becomes prime minister.
To be selected, candidates must receive the support of at least eight Tory MPs and get enough support in a series of votes among party lawmakers. Up to two nominees will be picked, and if there indeed are two, a vote will be held among the party membership.
The battle is expected to conclude by the end of next month, with former foreign secretary Boris Johnson the bookmakers’ favorite to emerge victorious.
Johnson, an ex-London mayor, has previously suggested he may also have tried to use cocaine, but later denied he had actually taken the drug.