A Twitter storm has been raging since yesterday evening over suggestions that de facto deputy prime minister Michael Gove told a German audience at the German Embassy that Britain’s decision to leave the EU paralleled with the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The whole thing started with two tweets: one from Kings College Professor Peter Neumann and one from Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, both of whom appear to have been in the room, and heard audience members heckle Gove:
However, some have claimed that Neumann and Bradshaw overstated both aspects of this debate: that Gove compared Brexit to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and that he was heckled as a result.
On the first point, the government has released a transcript of Gove’s speech, which seems to show that the Cabinet minister did not make a direct comparison between Brexit and the collapse of Soviet control in East Germany.
Some have suggested that Gove could have wandered from his lines, but the most plausible explanation seems to be the one posed by Alberto Nardelli of BuzzFeed, who says that Gove’s speech suffered from a “clumsy transition”.
Nardelli was in the room, and hasn’t disputed the official transcript. Plus, from reading the speech, Gove does breezily move from talking about German history to talking about Brexit – something that could easily have seemed clunky, with the wrong delivery.
Now, the second point is less clear. Nardelli says that he only heard one person shout “nonsense” at Gove, which probably doesn’t constitute “heckling”. However, Peter Foster of The Telegraph spoke to one seemingly impartial business leader in the room who said multiple people jeered the Cabinet minister.
This difference of opinion could well have stemmed from the different locations of people in a densely-packed space. It’s unlikely we’ll know for sure.
However, one thing is for certain: Gove’s speech certainly didn’t receive a rapturous reception, or even a mildly positive one. And I’m sure many people were jeering Gove in their heads, even if they were too polite to say anything out loud.