I never thought the day would come when a British political figure would speak as fearlessly and bluntly about the benefits of leaving the European Union as I have been doing for 20 years. Whenever I’ve used a word like “cretinous” during a serious political discussion, I’ve been lambasted for resorting to the language of the street, I’ve been criticised for leaning towards populism, and I’ve generally been regarded as somewhat coarse.
So it was a surprise when the refined figure of Jacob Rees-Mogg used exactly this term to describe the proposed customs partnership. This honest and scrupulous backbench MP, who chairs the European Research Group, addressed an Open Europe event in Westminster where he said the mooted partnership is “cretinous” and “a betrayal of good sense”.
He also warned members of the House of Lords, who this week voted three times against the government on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, that their insistence on trying to thwart Brexit means they are “playing with fire”. And he gently knifed Theresa May by calling her a “very enigmatic figure” when it comes to our quitting the EU.
At this dreadful time when watching the Brexit process has been such total purgatory, all I can say is thank goodness for Rees-Mogg.
I know that he and I share many of the same views when it comes to the EU. However, it is fair to say that our approaches are rather different. What makes his words of yesterday significant, therefore, is that he cast aside his usual caution and told it like it is. For this, he should be applauded.
But, boy, do we need more like him to stand up and tell the truth as a matter of urgency.
I’ve been talking for months about the collusion between the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, and the British political establishment. Even though both parties accept that Brexit will happen on March 29, 2019, their aim is that the UK will remain so closely bound to the EU’s rules, and on such unfavourable terms, that the case will be made by Remainers for our re-entry.
Rees-Mogg knows this and is doing his damnedest to stop it. He recognises the importance of honouring the will of the people and his party’s 2017 manifesto pledge.
Perhaps the most revealing aspect of his address was his criticism of why the Brexit process is going wrong. While I understand Mrs May’s concerns about the parliamentary arithmetic problem she faces daily (a problem of her own making) I’ve often wondered why she isn’t more robust and doesn’t just take on the EU’s bullying bureaucrats.
The simple answer, as Rees-Mogg himself said, is that she lacks “enthusiasm” for Brexit. She didn’t vote for Brexit, she doesn’t believe in Brexit, and whenever she’s asked whether she’d vote today for Brexit, she can’t answer the question. Thus Britain finds itself in the bizarre situation where all the Brexiteers in Conservative-supporting newspapers and within the party itself are desperate to keep in place a prime minister who doesn’t actually share their beliefs on the EU question for fear of a fatal split which might let in a Corbyn-led Marxist government.