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Capitalism kills. Never Trust a Tory with the NHS. Bollocks to Brexit. Theresa May sniffs glue. Tory, Tory, Tory, scum, scum, scum!

These were among the cheery messages which greeted me as I walked in  my mackintosh through light rain to my hotel in Manchester, and from there to the conference centre.

Stragglers making their way home from the protest darted surreptitious glances at the man in a mackintosh. They were presumably wondering whether I was a Tory, or glue-sniffer, or had come straight from killing off some particularly cherished part of the NHS.

And I darted surreptitious glances at them, wondering if they could be anything like as nasty as their slogans.

The answer to that question was evidently “No”. They looked kindly and public-spirited, if perhaps faintly misguided.

What a pity they could not have their prejudices challenged by attending the ConHome fringe meeting, live-streamed on this site, at which Jacob Rees-Mogg was questioned about Brexit by Professor Anand Menon, Director of The UK in a Changing Europe.

Well before the event began, a long queue formed outside the room, for the demand to see Rees-Mogg greatly exceeded the supply of space in which to do so.

In his courteous way, he indicated that if there is no Brexit deal with the European Union, “we pay them not a brass farthing”.

He wants the rights of EU citizens who are living here to be the same as those of British citizens, for they “came here legally and have contributed a great deal to the country”.

But for the EU to try to secure superior rights for its citizens living in the UK would be “outrageous and imperialist”.

When Menon asked about the vexed question of the Irish border, Rees-Mogg was similarly firm. The UK will place no controls on the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Would the EU then order the Republic of Ireland to impose such controls, even though these would inflict grievous damage on the Republic.

Rees-Mogg thought not: “The Irish Government is not going to be told what to do.” And if the EU were “so clod-hopping” as to attempt this, it would just demonstrate how right we were to leave.

Again and again, Rees-Mogg returned to the essential reason why we are leaving, namely to restore our democracy. When Menon asked what economic price he thought it worth paying in order to regain our democracy, Rees-Mogg said that on the contrary, “your economic success comes from your democracy”, not the other way round.

He conceded that once power has been returned to Parliament, Jeremy Corbyn will, if he wins the election, be “free to do lunatic things”, such as nationalise the railways.

Rees-Mogg commended Boris Johnson’s approach to Brexit, and opposed “an endless transition”, for then “Brexit ceases to be Brexit”.

Menon asked the accusation of many Remainers that the outcome of the referendum “was based on lies”. Rees-Mogg agreed that the Treasury and the Bank of England had behaved with shocking dishonesty: “The Treasury was besmirched…that was a deep disgrace.”

So Menon asked him directly: “Was the £350 million a lie?”

Rees-Mogg: “It’s not a lie but it’s not a figure that I like.” He had himself preferred to use the net figure. But “the Treasury told straightforward lies”.

When asked his view of Theresa May, he described her as “a heroine of 10,000 years”, praised her speeches at last year’s party conference and at Lancaster House, but added: “I have more doubts about the Florence speech.”

These doubts he described as tactical. It was a mistake to offer the EU any money at this stage, for money is “our strongest bargaining point”.

Without our money, the EU will face a very serious financial shortfall. Rees-Mogg reminded his audience that according to a House of Lords report issued six months ago, the 1968 Vienna Convention on Treaties makes clear that in law we owe the EU nothing.

“If we crash out without any deal we should not give the EU a penny.”

Rees-Mogg thought this point was in fact implicit in the Florence speech. But it is one he would like made explicit.

He conveyed, with eloquence and a strong historical sense, the conviction that the UK holds strong cards in the Brexit negotiation, so can procede with boldness, rather than as a trembling supplicant. No wonder he is such a draw at this conference.

 

 

60 comments for: Sketch: Rees-Mogg says if there is no Brexit deal “we pay them not a brass farthing”

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