The Sunday Times Magazine - UK (2022-05-01)

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12 • The Sunday Times Magazine


he minister for
Brexit opportunities
and government
efficiency is
explaining how
billions of pounds
locked up in City
institutions will be
freed by the lifting
of EU regulations.
“We can expect an
investment big bang,” Jacob Rees-Mogg
says, enthusiastically.
On cue there’s a crash. A football goes
flying across the front lawn where the
Rees-Mogg children are playing and
whacks into four-year-old Sixtus, the
youngest. “He was nearly decapitated,” says
Thomas, ten, helping his brother off the
pitch. “In that case it’s a good job I’ve got
five more,” Rees-Mogg’s wife, Helena,
sighs, scooping Sixtus up for a hug. After a
check for bumps and bruises and a nose
blow he’s soon smiling again, but when the
match resumes he is sent to play instead in
the front seat of one of the minister’s two
parked Bentleys.
Welcome to the Rees-Mogg household.
If the prime minister should yet be ousted
from office for cake-related offences, or step
aside in the aftermath of this week’s local
elections, the 52-year-old former investment
banker’s name is on a long list to succeed
him, albeit as a 66-1 bookies’ outsider. He’d
probably welcome the opportunity of high
office if only for a break from his hectic
home life. When Rees-Mogg attempts to
finish his point on the economy there’s
more commotion as his two-year-old cocker
spaniel disappears into a bush with the
football. “Daddy! Daisy’s got the ball.”
Try as he might to steer the discussion
towards matters of state, Rees-Mogg is
constantly upstaged by his children. Peter,
14, the eldest, is away boarding at Eton.
The other five, aged from 4 to 13, are
cannonballing around the gardens of
Gournay Court, the 400-year-old grade II
listed Somerset home Rees-Mogg bought
in 2010. It has echoes of the Bash Street
Kids running rings around Lord Snooty
in The Beano. “The trick to surviving a large
family is to keep your head when children
around you are nearly losing theirs,” he
reflects, ruefully. Most of the time he
does this with the aid of the family’s
longstanding nanny, Veronica Crook, who
once changed Rees-Mogg’s nappies and
went on to change those of his youngsters.
“I’m all in favour of nannies — but not
the nanny state,” he says drolly.
Some say his calm demeanour, or air
of effortless superiority, is why he was
promoted to a full cabinet role in February
after a period in which he kept away from
the spotlight following remarks he made
in 2019 about the Grenfell Tower fire. He
“profoundly” apologised after saying
residents should have ignored the

instructions of the London Fire Brigade
and used “common sense” to evacuate the
burning block. It wasn’t the first time he
had been called out for alleged insensitivity.
In 2017 he was criticised for referring to
food banks as “rather uplifting”.
With a cut-glass voice straight from
a period drama, he has nurtured an image
among colleagues as “the honourable
member for the 18th century”, though he’s
keen to point out he doesn’t employ a boy
chimney sweep and Latin is not his first
language. His disdain for big government
and his voting record have made him a
divisive figure even among Conservative
MPs, but he’s popular with many in the
party faithful, and with a surprising number
of young voters, for his languid, eccentric
persona and ability to say the unsayable.
He makes no effort to sidestep
controversy. He was in a minority of MPs

who voted in 2013 against legalising
same-sex marriage, a stance he accepts does
not make him universally popular. “I take
the teaching of the Catholic church as
authoritative. So marriage is a sacrament
that is ordained by God, it cannot be
changed by an act of parliament,” he says.
“I don’t want to tell people how to live their
lives, that’s a matter for them. But the
sacrament of marriage is a matter for the
Catholic church.”
He believes women should not have
abortions even in cases of rape and incest
— views that saw him accused of being a
bigot and worse when he aired them on
Good Morning Britain in 2017.
“I think abortion is one of the great
tragedies of the modern world,” he tells
me. “[The fact that] over 200,000 innocent
lives are destroyed in a year in the United
Kingdom is just something we should all be
desperately sad about.”
Are there no exceptional circumstances?
“The destruction of life is wrong. The
issue that is perhaps most complex is the
question of saving the mother’s life and
there the teaching of the church is quite
clear. If the saving of the mother’s life
means that the child in the womb cannot
survive then you have a duty to save the
mother’s life. But that is not conscious
abortion, that is consequential abortion,
and is therefore very different.”
Critics say he’s an anachronism, an
upper-crust throwback. In 2017, when
Rees-Mogg was touted for the Tory
leadership, Matthew Parris, the Times
writer and former Conservative MP, wrote:
“For the 21st-century Conservative Party
[he] would be pure hemlock. His manners
are perfumed but his opinions are poison.
Rees-Mogg is quite simply an unfailing,
unbending, unrelenting reactionary.”
He rose to popularity at a time of deep
division — a hard-Brexiteer, beloved of
Leavers, despised by Remainers. Now he
has the job of making Brexit work. When
he’s not refereeing his under-11s, his
current job involves sifting through 2,
suggestions from readers of The Sun and
the Express on which EU directives he
should rip up. Most who answered his call
for ideas want him to cut tax or scrap fussy
regulations. “There were lots of requests
to reduce VAT. People wrote in about
overreaching health and safety rules and
the working time directive. There were
comments on weights and measures and
reinstating the imperial system. I do like
that idea, though I accept we can’t go back
to furlongs.”
He admits that a few wags did suggest
rejoining the EU, pointing out the
questionable success of Brexit to date. In
March the Office for Budget Responsibility
noted that UK trade as a share of GDP has
fallen 12 per cent since 2019, two and a half
times more than in any other G7 country.
The “investment big bang” to which

Above: Rees-Mogg aged 12, and
already a shareholder. Below:
his father, William, edited
The Times from 1967 to 1981
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