Rees-Mogg Backs Leader May - With Warning Over Brexit Red Lines

(Bloomberg) -- Jacob Rees-Mogg, the grassroots darling of Theresa May’s Conservative Party and a favorite to succeed her, said he’s standing by the premier -- but couldn’t help warning her to deliver the Brexit he wants.

Speaking in central London almost exactly a year before Britain leaves the European Union, the pro-Brexit backbench lawmaker said he was “fully supporting” May but lamented her concessions on key issues -- including the jurisdiction of European courts, fishermen’s rights and freedom of movement -- during a transition period that’s set to run through December 2020.

Rees-Mogg Backs Leader May - With Warning Over Brexit Red Lines

“There isn’t a red line left: The concern is that all the red lines will be there in the final withdrawal agreement,” he said at a Leave Means Leave event on Tuesday. As is often his way, Rees-Mogg used an episode from the past to deliver his warning, referring to 19th-century Tory Prime Minister Robert Peel’s repeal of the Corn Laws that imposed import tariffs on food -- but only thanks to opposition support. He was ultimately forced to resign.

“I’m sure that the prime minister knows her history,” he said. “No Conservative leader would ever wish to get through so major a piece of legislation again on the back of opposition votes, and I think the government will stick to its red lines, because that is the political reality.”

Rees-Mogg emerged from the 2016 referendum as the Conservative Party’s leading voice against watering down Brexit, earning him a loyal fanbase dubbed Moggmentum, as well as a podcast called Moggcast -- all while May’s standing has been weakened by the loss of her majority in last year’s election.

‘Fully Supporting’

“I am fully supporting Mrs. May,” he said when asked if he would stand for the party leadership if the premier fails to deliver a so-called hard Brexit. “I’m sure she won’t break our red lines.”

Tall, thin and always sporting a double-breasted suit, he’s the caricature of an English gentleman, and his mannerisms -- including quoting Latin -- have gained Rees-Mogg a nickname: “Honorable member for the 18th century.” But on Wednesday, he said he was trying to update his image.

“Today I want to be -- and this may be some effort for me -- the honorable member for the 21st century,” he said. “A century that will see our country regain its independence and stride out once more into a new age of global trade and cooperation.”

He’s been ubiquitous since the referendum, but Rees-Mogg said things might have been different if the country had voted to remain in the EU in 2016.

“I’ve looked up that there is a Trappist monastery in Leicestershire, and it had been my intention to see if they would accept a visit from me, not on a permanent basis, but at least for an interim basis,” he said.

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