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Rees-Mogg: May should not retreat from Brexit promises

European Research Group chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg said Theresa May should stick to her promise to take the UK out of the customs union.


Jacob Rees-Mogg (Stefan Rousseau/PA))

Jacob Rees-Mogg (Stefan Rousseau/PA))

Jacob Rees-Mogg (Stefan Rousseau/PA))

It would be “bizarre” for Theresa May to retreat from her stance on taking the UK out of the customs union, influential Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg said.

In a message to the Prime Minister that she should stick to her Brexit red lines, the European Research Group (ERG) chairman stressed that it was a manifesto commitment to leave the customs union.

Mr Rees-Mogg also used a major interview to suggest that the “reddest of red carpets” should be rolled out for Donald Trump and he should be allowed to address MPs and peers in Parliament if he wants to.

Mr Rees-Mogg’s ERG has been accused of acting like Vladimir Putin’s Russia by wielding a “veto” over Brexit policy.

But Mr Rees-Mogg, who has previously described the Prime Minister’s approach to Brext as “enigmatic”, insisted he backed her approach.

The ERG wrote to the Prime Minister setting out their opposition to the proposed “customs partnership” which would see the UK effectively levy import tariffs on behalf of the EU.

The Brexit “war cabinet” of 11 senior ministers is subsequently thought to have split 6-5 against the plan, despite the Prime Minister’s support for it.

The need to find a solution could lead to parliamentary pressure to accept remaining in a full customs union with the EU.

But Mr Rees-Mogg said: “I trust the Prime Minister. She has said on so many occasions that she will take us out of the customs union.

“It was in the Conservative Party manifesto.

“That is the platform on which this country is being governed.

“It is bizarre to think that she would retreat from that promise.”

The backbencher, tipped as a future Tory leader, denied wanting to be prime minister and warned colleagues against attempting to oust Mrs May.

“My general view is that the Conservative Party, when it does that sort of thing, when it has those periodic fits, causes itself more problems than solutions,” he said.

“The Margaret Thatcher instance is the best case in point and that left the party damaged for 30 years.”

Ahead of the US president’s visit to the UK in July, Mr Rees-Mogg said he should be allowed to address Parliament.

Commons Speaker John Bercow has set out his opposition to Mr Trump being given the honour of speaking in Westminster Hall, the oldest and most prestigious part of the Palace of Westminster.

But peers have suggested that the president could speak in the Royal Gallery – as Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton did – where Mr Bercow’s opposition would carry less weight.

Mr Rees-Mogg told Sky News: “Our relationship with the United States is our most important foreign relationship and whoever the president of the United States is, it is in our interest to treat him with the greatest respect and courtesy.

“If that is what Mr Trump wants to do, of course it would be sensible to lay out the reddest of red carpets for him.

“He is a major ally. We have so many interests in common.”

Mr Rees-Mogg invited the cameras into his Somerset country house for the wide-ranging interview which will do little to diminish speculation about his political ambition.

But asked if he wanted to be prime minister he said: “No. I like being the Member of Parliament for North East Somerset.”

Speaking to Kay Burley in his kitchen, he restated his strict views on abortion, informed by his Catholic faith.

“It is never licit,” he said.

He said a situation where an expectant mother did not want to be pregnant he said: “You have got to think about the new life as well as the older life – there are two lives, that’s the point.”

But if the mother’s life was at risk “then it’s not a question of abortion” because “the duty of the physician is to preserve life and if the preserving of the mother’s life means that the child’s life cannot be preserved, that is something that may happen”.