Rees-Mogg's Brexit Blueprint Was Open to a Second Referendum

(Bloomberg) -- A second referendum; Passport checks between Britain and Ireland; A Norway-style relationship with the European Union. These are all options floated in a four-year-old document which leading Brexit-backer Jacob Rees-Mogg cited on Friday as the basis of his plans for leaving the EU.

The Conservative member of Parliament and chairman of the anti-EU European Research Group used an article in the Sun newspaper to hit back at European Council President Donald Tusk, who said this week there’s a “special place in hell” for Britain’s Brexit campaigners.

“His claim we do not have a plan just is false,” Rees-Mogg wrote, citing “Change or Go,” a 2015 book produced by the people behind the Leave campaign. “The ERG has continued to develop these ideas.”

The 1,000 page book had little to say about the biggest issue Brexit negotiators are wrestling with: how to manage Northern Ireland’s border once it becomes the U.K.’s new land frontier with the EU. Ireland itself gets a single mention in the index, and that’s for a section on energy markets.

The final 27 pages of the book are given over to answering common questions about Brexit, and reveal just how much Brexiteer thinking has shifted.

Hardened Views

In answer to the first question -- “What do we mean by ‘leaving the EU’?” -- the book suggests options including “becoming a European Economic Area member like Norway.” That position is now anathema to Brexiteers, whose views have hardened on what leaving means as negotiations have continued.

The subject of EEA membership comes up again in a section on what should happen if Britain reaches the end of the two-year Brexit negotiations without a deal. “One option is that negotiators may agree to extend the two-year deadline,” it reads. “Another is that the U.K. is ‘parked’ inside the EEA while outstanding issues are resolved.”

Both of these options have now be ruled out by the ERG as attempts to “frustrate Brexit.”

A border issue does come up in the questions section, though it’s not the one that’s causing so many problems in negotiations. On the U.K.’s Common Travel Area with Ireland, the book suggests that if Ireland were to “open up its borders” to the EU, “the likely end result would be the British government introducing passport checks on mainland ports.” The ERG currently rejects the idea of border checks on the Irish Sea.

Then there’s Question 211: “If the U.K. votes Out, would there be another referendum?” Though the book points out this is “very unlikely,” it adopts a noticeably more compromising tone than the ERG does now: “This would be a matter for the U.K. Parliament.”

Rees-Mogg didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.