MICHAEL Gove was "savage" in briefing against his opponents in devolved governments, the SNP's president has revealed.

The former levelling up secretary, who was sacked by Boris Johnson for joining the cabal who pushed him to resign, was reportedly "charming" before giving briefings against ministers from devolved governments. 

It became such a frequent occurrence that former Welsh education minister Leighton Andrews would say, "you've been Gove'd".

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Russell discussed his experiences as a minister and cabinet secretary in the Scottish Government in an interview with the Institute for Government (IfG). 

The former MSP held a number of briefs during his time in government - including holding the post of education secretary at the same time as Gove did in the UK Government. 

Russell stood down ahead of the last election and now holds the job of SNP president.

Speaking of his run-ins with Gove, Russell told the IfG: "I’ve spent a lot of my political career shadowing Michael Gove in one thing or another, regrettably.

The National: Russell held a number of roles in the Scottish Government including Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional RelationsRussell held a number of roles in the Scottish Government including Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations

"But one area where he had very little influence on me was when I was education secretary and he was education secretary.

"He did not deal with higher education; I dealt with the whole gamut.

"But on the schools side, there was virtually nothing. So we could have conversations, but they were irrelevant.

"I always felt sorry for Leighton Andrews and the Northern Ireland education minister, John O’Dowd because they had the exams system in common [with England].

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"Leighton Andrews used to have a phrase, 'you’ve been Gove’d', because whatever you did, Gove would be charming to your face and would then go out and brief savagely against you and that’s just how things were and how he is.

"So there was a pressure there."

Russell was interviewed by the IfG as part of its Ministers Reflect series, with a lengthy chat with former Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman also published on Friday. 

The SNP chief also held the role of Scotland's constitution, Europe and external affairs secretary while Brexit was taking place.

The National: Russell said he became close with Mark Drakeford during the Brexit processRussell said he became close with Mark Drakeford during the Brexit process

Asked if he had any "meaningful" influence over the UK's exit from the EU, Russell said: "I wish I was able to say that we had. I think that Mark Drakeford [Welsh minister for Brexit, subsequently first minister of Wales] and I were particularly close during the first couple of years and we did make some difference in holding the line and being absolutely clear that this was not being done in our name."

Russell said he felt he was being listened to when Damian Green, minister for the Cabinet Office in 2017, and David Lidington, in the same role 2018-19, were in post. 

He continued: "I know Mark thought we had tempered the worst excesses of Brexit at that time and that may be true.

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"I also think that with David Davis [secretary of state for exiting the European Union, 2016–18], it made a small amount of difference here and there in holding back the extremists, the voices of Brexit populism and exceptionalism, which eventually took over."

Russell added that once Boris Johnson and his "gang" had taken over - it made no difference at all. 

He continued: "I think the difference between the May and Johnson administration[s] is that there was a recognition under May, no matter how limited and grudging, of the legitimate interests of the devolved governments and their rights, whereas there was nothing but contempt for devolution from the Johnson government, expressed at every level even by the territorial secretaries of state.

The National: Gove has backed former chancellor Rishi Sunak in the Tory leadership contestGove has backed former chancellor Rishi Sunak in the Tory leadership contest

"The Johnson Tories, willingly or unwillingly, were absolutely on the hook of Brexit.

"Those who weren’t true believers, or who weren’t riding the tiger for reasons of ambition, were terrified of those who were pursuing it. They thought their entire political futures, probably did, depend on feeding the beast."

Russell also reflected on an incident with an unnamed minister following a Joint Ministerial Committee.

He said: "Just as he went past me – [the meeting] had been particularly fractious and I had been particularly argumentative about the issues – just as he went past me, he turned and said very quietly: 'Keep going, we need you.'

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"And another one: I remember going off to the loo again, I think in the basement of the House of Commons, where we used to have these awful no-deal meetings, which were just absolutely grim, [a senior UK minister] turning to me as we went into the toilet and saying: 'It is a madhouse, run by the inmates.;

"About his own colleagues.

"You know, there was a huge, huge dissatisfaction but [also] a fear amongst many prominent senior Tories that they could not oppose what was happening."

We previously told how Gove dismissed rumours that he was leaving politics and insisted he will stay on as an MP. 

The former Cabinet minister did admit that he likely won't hold a top government role ever again.