People are taking Jacob Rees-Mogg far too seriously

by Luke Lythgoe | 02.05.2018

Jacob Rees-Mogg and his posse of backbench Brextremists have a loud voice, but little real effect on Theresa May’s policies. However, the more he trashes the prime minister’s Brexit in the media, the more the public will turn against her final deal.

The European Research Group (ERG), the Tory Brexiter bloc Rees-Mogg leads in Parliament, has a bark far worse than its bite. It has repeatedly kicked up a storm over May’s concessions to Brussels, and failed to reverse any of them.

There was the UK’s divorce bill, which the ERG argued should be flipped on its head with the EU paying the UK about £9 billion instead. May ultimately agreed to pay a figure of £35-39 billion or more.

Rees-Mogg made a big stand against transition, calling for an end to free movement and to exit the single market as soon as the UK left the EU in March 2019. He made repeated interventions on specific transition issues, such as the UK not following new EU laws during the period and not granting residency rights to EU citizens arriving in the UK after Brexit. Appearing on the BBC’s Today programme at the time, Rees-Mogg said he’d be astonished if the prime minister, a “lady of great backbone”, made such a u-turn.

But u-turn she did and, in March, the prime minister signed a transition deal agreeing that the UK would follow the EU’s rules without a vote until December 2020. Any EU citizens arriving after transition would also be allowed to stay permanently.

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A similar intervention happened today over May’s proposal of a “customs partnership” with the EU. Rees-Mogg has previously called the plan “cretinous”. The ERG then issued a 30-page report strongly opposing the idea. Anonymous ERG members told the Telegraph they might withdraw support from government bills in Parliament, causing legislative paralysis and government “collapse”.

This threat rings hollow. The ERG doesn’t have remotely enough MPs to force through its extreme version of Brexit. Ironically, if it refused to back the government, pro-European MPs would have an even easier job pushing through amendments guaranteeing a customs union and so forth. True, Rees-Mogg’s gang could vote with Labour to bring down the government. But how would putting Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street advance their agenda?

That leaves the option of trying to kick out May and put in a hard-Brexit Tory, perhaps even Rees-Mogg, as prime minister. The snag is that wouldn’t change the parliamentary maths in a way which might help them. It might even trigger a chaotic breakdown in the Brexit talks. But that too could undermine their goal because the public could find crashing out with no deal so frightening that they might turn against Brexit entirely.

Despite the fact that Rees-Mogg spouts hot air, the BBC gave him the prime 8.10am slot on the Today programme this morning. David Lidington, effectively May’s deputy prime minister, was given the less coveted 8.40am slot. True to form, Rees-Mogg used his interview to backpedal from the angry headlines, insisting there was “no question” of an ultimatum or an attempt to topple the government.

Pro-Europeans should welcome the media’s love affair with Rees-Mogg. The more front pages and high-profile interviews in which he attacks May’s proposed Brexit, the more public opinion will turn against her deal. If the people decide they don’t like the way Brexit is going, they should get a vote on the deal with an option to stay in the EU. The more Rees-Mogg huffs and puffs, the more he risks destroying his pet project.

InFacts is a founding a member of the People’s Vote campaign.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

4 Responses to “People are taking Jacob Rees-Mogg far too seriously”

  • This is why part of me wishes Brexiters such as Johnson, Gove or indeed Rees-Mogg were occupying No 10. Because they’d make a good fist of being PM? God no! It would be because they would be in charge and Leave voters would see just how unworkable Brexit would be even with a hardened hard-right Brexit fanatic in charge. There would be no blaming May and Hammond for being remainers. It’d be their tree and they’d be sitting in it!

    The EU would not be changing its stance just because Gove or Rees-Mogg was PM. They’d be facing the same issues as Mrs May…indeed more so due to their childish outlook and belligerence.

  • Rees-Mogg is the “Bannon” of UK politics. The horror to me is the continuing percentage of UK audiences that loudly support the total break option, in the belief that an indominatable British phlegm can overcome any obstacle. They forget to relate the 10 years or more of even worse austerity that we experienced post WW2, in the pursuit of “independence” when in reality the USA drove all our decisions, only publicly apparent in the 1956 Suez crisis. Just who is fooling whom?

  • Having listened to the Rees-Mogg interview, I cannot see how it can be spun to be a threat to Mrs May. If a proposed option is analysed and found to be unworkable, as the Civil Service option sounds to be, then the Prime Minister should read the analysis.

    The Civil Service is poor at negotiations (IT deal failures costing the taxpayer £ billions) and to add the necessary extra manpower to run the proposed collection and rebate of EU tariffs sounds like extravagant empire building, which is the Civil Service’s default position.

  • free mobility of people will cease on mar 2019 and EU national will be banned from entering the uk
    It will be no go area for citizens of the EU