Belfast Telegraph

Rees-Mogg denies conflict of interest over Treasury watchdog bid

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Tory MP vying to lead parliament's powerful Treasury watchdog, has denied claims that his involvement with an investment fund poses a conflict of interest.

The prominent Brexiteer is slugging it out with five other MPs to become the new chair of the Treasury Select Committee, and he told the Press Association that his role as founding partner at Somerset Capital Management would not affect his ability to succeed the respected Andrew Tyrie.

"It's very hard to see how the Select Committee could have a specific individual benefit to Somerset Capital," Mr Rees-Mogg explained.

"It's a medium-sized investment firm that would never come into direct contact with the Committee.

"Issues that affect Somerset would affect the whole asset management industry, so I don't think the conflict is that great, and everyone is aware of it, which is very important."

Critics claim Mr Rees-Mogg's position at Somerset, an emerging markets investment firm that manages assets worth 8.5 billion US dollars (£6.6 billion), could undermine his impartiality were he to replace Mr Tyrie, who gave up his role when he stood down as an MP before the General Election.

Some Labour MPs are also seeking to block Mr Rees-Mogg's appointment on the grounds of his Euroscepticism, arguing that he may not be able to properly scrutinise the Government's Brexit plans.

Eton and Oxford-educated Mr Rees-Mogg, who has sat on the Treasury committee since 2015, said that he is aware of the concerns but insisted that if he wins the chairmanship, he would not use the role as "a means of pushing my own hobby horse".

"I've tried to reassure people that if I were to become chairman, I would want the committee to act properly in scrutinising the Government and in holding the Government and quangos to account, but not to use it as a means of pushing my own hobby horse," he said.

The other hopefuls who have so far declared their interest in the role include former transport minister Stephen Hammond, ex-Cabinet Officer minister John Penrose, former education secretary Nicky Morgan and MPs Richard Bacon and Charlie Elphicke.

The appointment could be made this week following a secret vote by MPs.

But the victor will have a hard act to follow, with Mr Tyrie having made his name as a fierce inquisitor of ministers and financial industry bosses.

The former Chichester MP, who was a supporter of Remain, led a forensic investigation by his committee into the claims of Brexit campaigners, which found that both sides were putting out "misleading" numbers to back up their arguments.

Mr Rees-Mogg commended Mr Tyrie's fearless stewardship of the committee, saying he had been an "absolutely admirable, first-class chairman".

A backbench MP for North East Somerset, Mr Rees-Mogg has gained prominence for his clashes with Bank of England Governor Mark Carney during Committee meetings.

Defending those interactions, Mr Rees-Mogg argued that the entire point of the committee is "to hold the Bank of England and other such bodies to account".

"There is no personal side to this, no personal animosity, no questioning of the integrity of the Governor of the Bank of England, but inevitably the role of the Treasury Select Committee is to question the judgment of powerful people, and that is an important role, it has to be done.

"Not to do that would be failing in the duties of parliamentary scrutiny."

On Brexit, Mr Rees-Mogg offered his views on the recent debate over whether the UK will be able to "have its cake and eat it" when it leaves the bloc.

"I like cake, I like eating it, I like having it and I like baking bigger cakes, which was Margaret Thatcher's great saying," he said.

"I think it's true - economically you want to bake a bigger cake rather than slicing up an existing cake differently."

As for the impact of Brexit on the City, Mr Rees-Mogg said he is "not worried about it at all".

"It's all hugely over-egged. The thing about the City is that it's not its geography, it's not its time-zone. It's that it is good at what it does. People want to do business here," he said.

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