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.
I still think that Britain will achieve Brexit, but if Mrs May were to back track on the customs union and some of the other major promises that were made to the electorate by everyone on the Brexit side – and in her own 2017 manifesto – it would be fair to say the chances of the Tories winning the next election are zero. If Mrs May acquiesces on any of this, she will hand the country to Corbyn on a plate. This, as all fair-minded people know, would be ruinous.
It cannot be said enough times: the UK leaving the customs union, making the most of its independence, and being free to make its own trade deals is vital – even more so as France moves by stealth to replace the UK as Donald Trump’s preferred partner. Brexit and Trump were supposed to be the opportunity for the Atlantic to get a lot narrower. In fact, the gulf between our countries appears to be as big as ever.
When the Conservative Party was led by Mrs Thatcher, I was quite happy to pay my membership fee. Whether I agreed with everything she did or not, she was a leader with a clear and strong vision, unafraid of the Establishment, deaf to confected criticism, and determined to kick on in a direction of her choosing.
More than that, the EU’s bureaucrats were frightened of her. When she took her handbag to Fontainebleau in 1984, she struck the deal that ended the fight over Britain’s budget contribution to the EC, as it was. When Tony Blair tried the same trick in 2005, he was completely outsmarted and gave away £7 billion of our rebate. No British leader since Thatcher – up to and including May – has pursued any other policy than appeasement of our unelected European lords and masters.
Since Thatcher’s downfall in 1990, there has not been a single Conservative leader who really believed in Britain and was prepared to stand up and fight for what is right while telling the unvarnished truth. With that in mind, I now begin to wonder whether Rees-Mogg might perhaps have the necessary qualities to lead the country. Just consider this. A few days ago the Irish Commissioner Phil Hogan told an EU press conference: “…we’re very pleased in the European Union that we’re dealing with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, not with Mr. Rees-Mogg.”
Mr Hogan is right. Jacob is the leader Britain needs.