Appointed by Boris Johnson as Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg cultivates the air of a pantomime toff. But he is very far from being a harmless eccentric. Indeed, in his expressed willingness to suspend Parliament to achieve his goals, he now represents a very real threat to democracy in our country. He is also one of several members of the Cabinet Horrors who appear to regard the rules democratic politicians have put in place to benefit us all to be an inconvenience to their profit-making activities.
Let’s take the issue of laws to prevent tax avoidance and money laundering, many of them EU laws. Here, it is often hard to distinguish Rees-Mogg’s political goals from his more personal pursuit of profit. The old Etonian financier sees Brexit as a way of avoiding planned new EU regulations aimed at governing the behaviour of companies such as his own investment vehicle, Somerset Capital Management, and is excited by the opportunity that Brexit offers to slash environmental and safety laws. His firm is managed via subsidiaries in the tax havens of the Cayman Islands and Singapore, and Rees-Mogg has profited personally from the use of such tax havens. He is also closely connected with Crispin Odey, the hedge fund manager who profited to the tune of £220 million on the night of the referendum and part-funded Rees-Mogg’s election campaign.
But this is not to say that ideology plays no part. Rees-Mogg has documented connections to extreme right-wing ideologues such as Steve Bannon, and has played a key role in the shadowy European Research Group (ERG).
Some insight into Rees-Mogg’s mindset may be offered by a 1997 book co-authored by his father, William Rees-Mogg: The Sovereign Individual: The Coming Economic Revolution and How to Survive and Prosper in It. This looked forward eagerly to a dog-eat-dog future in which the welfare state has shrivelled away, the rich pay little or no tax and only ‘sovereign individuals’ are able to prosper. When the interests of these ‘sovereign individuals’ conflict with the interests of the rest of us, it is fairly apparent that for Rees-Mogg it is the interests of citizens that should be sacrificed. As Alastair Campbell has commented: ‘After reading it, it is easy to see why Jacob so loves Brexit, and the chaos and disorder, and opportunities for disaster capitalism and super-elitism, that it may provide.’
Several developments in the last year have shed light on Rees-Mogg’s ruthless pursuit of financial gain and political power.
On the ideological front, he has made his sympathies with the extreme right even clearer, for instance by approvingly sharing material from the leader of Germany’s openly racist AfD, senior figures from which have called for refugees to be shot.
At the same time, his complete lack of principle was starkly exposed when he said he was prepared to back Theresa May’s Brexit deal, despite having claimed that it would reduce the UK to the condition of ‘vassalage’. Rees-Mogg, along with Dominic Raab and a number of other senior Tory hard-Brexiters, had previously been trying to pressure May into renegotiating the deal, calling the cabal that they formed to do this the ‘Grand Wizards’ (a title also favoured by leaders of the Ku Klux Klan).
Rees-Mogg’s financial dealings have also come under scrutiny, after it was revealed that his firm has a £60 million stake in Sberbank, a Russian bank closely linked to the Kremlin and sanctioned since 2014 following Putin’s invasion of Eastern Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. (Incidentally, Sberbank was also closely involved in the Russian gold and diamond ‘opportunities’ brokered for leading Brexiters Arron Banks and Jim Mellon by agents of Putin’s mafia state.) Curiously – or perhaps not so curiously – Rees-Mogg’s social media presence has been helpfully boosted by the efforts of Russian bots.
While eager to impose the hardest of Brexits on his fellow citizens, Rees-Mogg has taken care to protect his own financial interests. In March it emerged that his firm had set up two funds in Dublin to ensure that it still has access to the European Union after Brexit. Asked by Channel 4 whether it was true that the firm had set aside £7 million for him since the Brexit vote, Rees-Mogg refused to answer and said the Dublin move had ‘nothing to do with Brexit’.
In many ways, Jacob Rees-Mogg closely resembles Lord Halifax, a leading Conservative appeaser of the Nazis in the 1930s. Like Rees-Mogg, Halifax was an almost parodically old-fashioned Etonian and passionate supporter of fox-hunting who made much of his religious beliefs. He was not, however, noted for combining politics with the pursuit of personal profit.
Why was Rees-Mogg given the influential role of Leader of the House in Johnson’s Cabinet of Horrors? Perhaps because of his expressed willingness to support the suspension of Parliament in order to railroad through a no-deal Brexit – something he pointedly refused to rule out in his first speech in his new role.
There are clear grounds to suspect that Rees-Mogg’s loyalty to profit and to the elite he represents is stronger than his loyalty to the rule of law and democratic politics. In any event, it is impossible to place any trust in Jacob Rees-Mogg as a guardian of democratic values at a moment of grave national crisis.