The Treasury and the Bank of England "came out with nonsense, and damaged both their reputations."
In an exclusive interview with Prospect Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative MP for North East Somerset and leading Brexit campaigner, had stern words for British institutions which, as he sees it, backed "Remain." Both the Treasury and the Bank "behaved disgracefully, using the authority of public money, public position, to influence the debate." They "are seen as less good institutions than they were before," he said.
In the run-up to the referendum, George Osborne said he would respond to a Brexit vote with a heavy dose of further austerity. This "punishment budget" was, Rees Mogg said, "Bonkers"—and so "a Godsend to the Leave Campaign"
Rees-Mogg, who has been an MP since 2010, is one of the country's most high-profile Eurosceptics. A member of the European Scrutiny Committee for six years, he commands great respect among those in the "Leave" camp. Last week, after Rees-Mogg gave a speech in the House of Commons, David Davis pointed out: "As ever, my right honourable friend speaks for England."
When I asked him whether the "Leave" campaign misled voters also, with its pledge of £350m weekly for the NHS, he said "The figure was not my preferred figure, I thought they should have used the net, rather than the gross."
When the government triggers Article 50, a two-year countdown will begin, after which Britain will be out—unless it secures transitional arrangements. This has given rise to talk of a "cliff-edge" if a UK-EU deal is not struck in time. Rees-Mogg conceded that "leaving the EU without a deal is not an impossible position to be in by any means," but stressed: "I think it’s strongly in the interests of our European friends and allies” to give us one. If no deal can be reached, will Britain cope? "Of course we could, of course we could! The EU as a percentage of our trade has been declining."
The civil service will be essential to making trade deals happen post-Brexit, but it has been the subject of controversy in recent weeks, with Britain's permanent representative to the EU, Ivan Rogers, resigning—citing "muddled thinking." Brexiteers are "A very small number in the civil service as far as one can tell," Rees-Mogg said. While many civil servants accept the result of the referendum, "there are some irreconcilables, which seems to include Ivan Rogers... Roberts... whoever he was."
"The irreconcilables will have to work in other departments [to the Brexit department], because it is fundamentally wrong for civil servants to frustrate the policy of the government."
In a speech at Lancaster House on 17th January, May said that Britain will leave not just the European Union, but the Single Market. This was not the issue on the ballot paper, but Rees-Mogg was unfazed: "The 'Remain' campaigners said very early on that leaving the EU meant leaving the Single Market, which I think is a thoroughly good thing because it is a beauracratic, highly regulated means of making British business less efficient... it’s about having a closed, inward-looking fortress Europe approach, rather than engaging with the world."
Asked whether Brexit will enable Britain to strip out cumbersome financial regulation, Rees-Mogg said: "It will provide us with an opportunity to make future regulation that is more suited to our market." On the question of whether he, as the owner of an investment firm, would benefit from this, he replied: "My business wouldn’t benefit from stripping out the regulation because we’ve already had the costs of implementing the regulation." He continued: "We could make a business work on roughly $300m under management in 2007. I think if we were to repeat it now, we would need well over $1bn of funds under management to make the business function. Once you’re incumbent, that’s great, because regulation makes it harder for people to set up to take our clients from us… but as I want a dynamic growing economy, I want it to be easier for small firms."
Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that MPs will have a vote on the triggering of Article 50. When I asked whether he was worried about certain MPs making trouble for the Brexit he envisions, Rees-Mogg replied: "I strongly believe in the right of backbench MPs to make their views known. I don’t think it’s wrong of them to stick to their guns—but I don’t think they’ll win."
He summed up his thoughts: Brexit is "a wonderful liberation for the country." There is "no political event in my lifetime that has been better or more exciting for the nation."
On the 17th of January, Prospect hosted a roundtable discussion with the contributors to: Brexit Britain: the trade challenge. This report is designed to act as a guide for parliamentarians, officials and businesses with a stake in the UK’s changing relationship with the world following Brexit. The discussion was chaired by Tom Clark, Editor of Prospect. Participants included Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh MP, Miriam González and Vicky Pryce.
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