Although Jacob Rees-Mogg missed out on a promotion in last week’s reshuffle, the Moggster has at least got a new string to add to his bow. The Conservative backbencher has been appointed chairman of the all-powerful ‘European Research Group’ – replacing Suella Fernandes.
The group has been described by the Times as the ‘most powerful opposition force in British politics’ but in effect is a place for the Conservative party’s most dedicated Brexiteers to congregate, liaise and come up with a counter to any position (government or not) that looks a bit too Remain for their liking. In that vein, they have a special Tory WhatsApp group – separate to the main Conservative MP one – to meet their aims.
The group wields a lot of influence on the government and the respected Rees-Mogg’s appointment is interesting as when it comes to his position on Brexit he is uncompromising. While some Brexiteers – such as Dominic Raab – are seen to as ‘pragmatic’ on certain issues so long as the end picture is a ‘proper’ Brexit, Rees-Mogg is more hardline. His interventions up to this date prove that – with Mogg warning the Prime Minister last month that her Brexit red lines were ‘beginning to look a little bit pink’. He urged her to ‘apply a new coat of paint’ before she next goes to Brussels. Rees-Mogg is known to be particularly concerned about the government’s ‘solution’ to the Irish border problem.
Speaking about his appointment, Rees-Mogg insisted that he was keen to use his position to ‘help’ the government pursue its Brexit aims. On Newsnight, he explained his intentions:
‘I want us to leave the EU — heart, soul and mind. I don’t want the sort of Brexit where, because they’ve given us all sorts of baubles, we have stayed in bits [of EU law] which deny us freedom. It is so important we retain flexibility to do deals with other countries.’
There will be concern in No 10 that Rees-Mogg’s offer of ‘help’ will create more day-to-day difficulty than ease when it comes to some of the trade-offs being considered in the second round of talks.