He is mocked as the Honourable Member for the 18th Century, but Rees-Mogg is increasingly influential. Prospect asked him about the failings of the Chequers meet, the chances of a no deal exit and whether he has his own leadership ambitionsby Alex Dean / July 26, 2018 / Leave a comment
Not so long ago, though it seems difficult to imagine now, Jacob Rees-Mogg was a largely inconsequential politician. Those who had heard of him found his traditionalist persona amusing, there were a couple of memorable appearances on Have I Got News For You, but that’s as far as it went. The “Right Honourable Member for the 18th Century” was not thought of as someone who wielded real political power in the Conservative Party, let alone the country.
Yet today he is one of the most significant figures on the Tory benches. As Theresa May’s Brexit vision has diluted in the face of reality, the MP for North Somerset has carved out a role as her fiercest pro-Brexit critic. Rees-Mogg leads the European Research Group, which is stacked with hardline Tory Leavers. To his supporters he is the guardian of true Brexit.
The Conservative Home leadership poll frequently ranks him the members’ favourite and, though it terrifies his critics, the millionaire old Etonian and son of the long-serving Times editor William Rees-Mogg is now thought to be a leading candidate for the top job—if a vacancy comes up.
Though soft spoken, he is one of Westminster’s sharpest political operators. When I caught him on the phone recently, Rees-Mogg had just forced a government climbdown on the trade bill, locking in a harder exit from Europe and prompting an exasperated Anna Soubry MP to announce that he is now “running our country.”
There were endless points we could have begun on. How will Brexit end? Will it tear apart his party? But I went for the leadership question. If the opportunity did arise, would Rees-Mogg ever think about actually running the country? Would he throw his hat in the ring?
In the past he has flatly ruled this out, but would not do so when we spoke. “It’s very flattering but I wouldn’t take it seriously,” he first said of the speculation, speaking slowly. I pressed him further and asked him to flat deny it. He refused. “I think we’re in the situation that we’re in.”
It is not often Rees-Mogg, a composed man, squirms. But I sensed a little discomfort on the other end of the line. He was keen to move on.
What about the Chequers deal? Theresa May has softened her Brexit stance significantly since coming to office and the plan thrashed out in her country…