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One Glaring Inaccuracy in Michael Gove’s Interview with Donald Trump


Michael Gove, the British MP and former journalist, notorious for being “tired of experts”, secured a British newspaper’s first interview with president-elect Donald Trump. 

Conducted in parallel with a journalist from the German newspaper, Bild, the Times interview spanned themes ranging from Trump’s relationship with Russia, the UK and the EU, to his love of the Queen and the Scottish countryside. 

While the world struggles to make sense of his statements on the EU, NATO, or the size of his pennies, there’s another inaccuracy that’s slipped between the threads of his answers. In summary: Brexit happened because “they” were “forced to take all of the refugees.” 

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Here’s a breakdown of why this makes no sense. 

In the full transcript of the interview, Trump shares  his impressions of German Chancellor Angela Merkel: 

Gove: When Obama came for his last visit to Berlin, he said that if he could vote in the upcoming election he would vote for Angela Merkel. Would you?

Trump: Well, I don’t know who she’s running against, number one, I’m just saying, I don’t know her, I’ve never met her. As I said, I’ve had great respect for her. I felt she was a great, great leader. I think she made one very catastrophic mistake and that was taking all of these illegals, you know taking all of the people from wherever they come from. And nobody even knows where they come from. You’ll find out, you got a big dose of it a week ago. So I think she made a catastrophic mistake, very bad mistake. Now, with that being said, I respect her, I like her, but I don’t know her. So I can’t talk about who I’m gonna be backing — if anyone.

First of all, refugees are not “illegals” — as the Times noted in a later version of the headline. Refugees are defined and protected in international law as people fleeing armed conflict or persecution. By law, refugees cannot be sent back to countries where their lives would be put in danger.  They have a specific legal status. “Illegals” is a disparaging term used to describe immigrants who enter the US illegally.

refugeeswelcome.jpgImage: Ilias Bartolini

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And Trump’s response to a question on the future of the EU betrays a deeper misunderstanding of the situation.

What is your view on the future of the European Union? Do you expect more countries to leave the European Union?

I think it’s tough. I spoke to the head of the European Union, very fine gentleman called me up.

Mr Juncker?

Yes, ah, to congratulate me on what happened with respect to the election. Uh, I think it’s very tough. I think it’s tough. People, countries want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity but, I do believe this, if they hadn’t been forced to take in all of the refugees, so many, with all the problems that it, you know, entails, I think that you wouldn’t have a Brexit. It probably could have worked out but, this was the final straw, this was the final straw that broke the camel’s back.

I think people want, people want their own identity, so if you ask me, others, I believe others will leave.

In reality, the UK was never forced to take in "all of the refugees." 

Of course, Trump does not mean literally “all”, but the idea that these refugees were destined for the UK is misleading. At the height of the refugee crisis, while Germany accepted up to 1 million refugees in one year, the UK voluntarily agreed to take in 20,000 over a five-year period. That equates to 4,000 a year, or only 6 per parliamentary constituency.

Significantly, the UK refused to accept any refugees that had already made it to Europe, except an unspecified number of unaccompanied child refugees. Eventually, approximately 300 child refugees were transferred from Calais, after delays from the Home Office left children uncertain of their fate until the camp was at the point of closure. 

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Yet, Gove did not clarify any of this in his interview with Trump, or in his write-up of the conversation later. Perhaps Trump was too reliant on Nigel Farage, who he refers to as “our Nigel” in the interview, for his understanding of the refugee situation in Europe. But in a world where there are currently 65 million displaced people in need of a home, Britain has barely taken any. 

Perhaps this is not what Trump meant, but if his answers were muddled, surely it is the job of a journalist to seek clarity — hard as it may be? 

Refugees crossing Mediterranean.jpgImage: Massimo Sestini for the Italian Navy

As politicians and journalists continue to peddle myths about the perceived threat from “outsiders”, people are dying. 2016 was the deadliest year on record for refugees crossing the Mediterranean, and the tragedy has persisted. Less than a week ago, at least 100 refugees drowned as their boat sank trying to reach Europe. By refusing to create legal routes for those seeking refuge, Britain and EU governments are continuing to ignore the mounting death toll on the continent’s shores. 

Sadly, Michael Gove might not be be expected to welcome refugees as warmly as he welcomes Trump’s enthusiasm for Brexit, but that’s besides the point.

Whilst Trump’s comments on the future of the EU and NATO are causing a stir, so should the inaccuracies revealed by the interview. Resigning ourselves to the “post-truth” era is a dangerous game, allowing people to choose fear over compassion, exaggeration over empathy, in a world that urgently needs voices who will speak to truth to power. 

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