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7 February 2022

Jacob Rees-Mogg is a disgrace to the country he claims to love

The new Brexit Opportunities minister has done more than merely defend Boris Johnson. He has actually egged him on.

By Martin Fletcher

Jacob Rees-Mogg affects the guise of an English gentleman. He was educated at Eton and Oxford. He has a London townhouse, country mansion and two vintage Bentleys. He speaks in sonorous Edwardian English and has impeccable manners. He replies to his Somerset constituents by letter, not e-mail. He invariably wears a suit and tie. 

He says that to be born British is “to win first prize in the lottery of life”. He adores the national anthem, whose words “link us to our sovereign who is part of that chain that takes us back to our immemorial history”. The Economist once described him as “the blue passport in human form, the red telephone box made flesh, the Royal Yacht Britannia in a pinstripe suit”.

I don’t know for sure, but I presume that Rees-Mogg regards himself as a model of propriety, an upholder of the traditional British standards of decency, honesty and integrity, a champion of the values and institutions that made Britain great.

All of which makes it baffling that the Leader of the House of Commons should defend Boris Johnson so staunchly. He calls Johnson an “excellent, exceptional leader”. He dismisses the furore over “Partygate” as “squalls” that will pass. He suggests that the lockdown rules were “very hard for people to obey”, ignoring the fact the Prime Minister imposed them on the country. “I am a carrier of the flabellum… the ostrich feather carried in front of the Pope,” Rees-Mogg, a devout Catholic, told the Daily Telegraph.

[See also: Nadine Dorries: From the celebrity jungle to Johnson’s loudest cheerleader]

Rees-Mogg has warned mutinous Conservative backbenchers that they will face a general election if they force the Prime Minister from office, which is a grotesque distortion of the constitution he professes to love. When Douglas Ross, the leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, demanded Johnson resign, Rees-Mogg played into the hands of Scottish nationalists by calling him a “lightweight”.

He has done more than merely defend Johnson. He has actually egged him on. Before Christmas he helped devise the Prime Minister’s plan to protect Owen Paterson, the Tory MP (and hardline Brexiteer) who had broken Westminster’s lobbying rules, by creating a sham, Tory-controlled committee to replace the standards committee that had recommended Paterson’s suspension.

The plan caused such intense cross-party anger that it had to be withdrawn. Paterson resigned, and the Liberal Democrats dramatically overturned the Tories’ 23,000 majority in the subsequent North Shropshire by-election. Rees-Mogg apologised for what the Times called an “assault on the integrity of the political system”.

He was also allegedly behind Johnson’s scurrilous accusation in the Commons last week that Keir Starmer, as director of public prosecutions, had failed to charge the paedophile Jimmy Savile with sex offences. The accusation provoked another furious cross-party backlash and prompted Munira Mirza, Johnson’s long-serving policy chief, to resign in disgust.

“The idea had originally been whispered to Johnson on the front bench by Jacob Rees-Mogg,” according to the Sunday Times. Television footage of the Johnson-Starmer exchange certainly showed Rees-Mogg saying something in the Prime Minister’s direction seconds before he stood up, then nodding vigorously and pointing at Starmer as Johnson unleashed his attack.

Does Rees-Mogg seriously believe Johnson’s conduct is defensible? To permit as many as 16 parties in No 10 while imposing draconian lockdowns on the rest of the country, and then to lie repeatedly and brazenly about them to parliament, is not a mere “misjudgement” as Johnson would have us believe. It is a deliberate flouting of national rules and solemn parliamentary convention.

Partygate is not about left versus right, or Remainers versus Brexiteers. It is about decency versus indecency, honesty versus dishonesty, right versus wrong. Mirza, educated at an Oldham comprehensive, gets that even if Rees-Mogg, educated at Britain’s most prestigious public school, does not.

Why is a man who so reveres the monarchy not outraged that Johnson had to apologise to the Queen for a Downing Street party held on the eve of her husband’s funeral? Why is this leading member of the so-called party of law and order not appalled that a British prime minister is now the subject of a police investigation? Why is a Brexiteer who fought so hard to restore the sovereignty of the British parliament not disgusted at the contempt with which Johnson has treated it? Why is this self-styled patriot not dismayed at the damage Johnson’s antics are doing to British democracy, to British public life and to Britain’s global reputation?

I can’t explain Rees-Mogg’s seemingly total loss of moral compass, his willingness to sell his soul for such a manifestly rotten Prime Minister. Perhaps it’s tribalism that blinds him to the immense damage Johnson is inflicting on the country he professes to love. Perhaps it’s ideology. Conceivably a man such as Rees-Mogg, who has dreamed since his boyhood of being mega-rich, thinks a seriously wounded prime minister will be more amenable to those like him who want Britain to become a low-tax, low-regulation Singapore-on-Thames.

But I do know this. When Johnson is finally ousted, as he surely will be, Rees-Mogg and the entire sect of sinister right-wing zealots that has propped up this dreadful administration must also be swept from office.

[See also: Five reasons Jacob Rees-Mogg is unfit to tackle the climate crisis]

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