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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > May-18 > Archbishop of Brexit

Archbishop of Brexit

Can Jacob Rees-Mogg become Britain’s 55th prime minister—and Eton’s 20th? Sonia Purnell investigates

Prospect Portrait

Like all winning populist politicians, from Donald Trump to Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees- Mogg is a carefully created persona, a semi-permanent work of performance art. His words and deeds are calibrated to perfect that seemingly- spontaneous air that today qualifies an “authentic” figure, who lies outside a despised and discredited mainstream. Anything likely to impinge on the persona must be ruthlessly avoided or abandoned.

It must have been for this reason that the 48-year-old Rees-Mogg, Tory MP for North- East Somerset since 2010, declined to join a fish-flinging escapade on a boat outside parliament in March, in protest at the government agreeing to observe European Union fishing regulations during the Brexit transition. It was not the sentiment he disagreed with—he too believes the UK’s concession betrayed our coastal communities. It is just that the protest didn’t fit his image.

Of course Nigel Farage was on board the plucky red fishing boat, chucking haddock, skate and bass into the swirling waters of the River Thames for the cameras. The stunt worked perfectly for his unruly persona. But Farage’s race is run, and his chances of statesmanship pretty much nil.

Rees-Mogg plays a different part, sensing a grander future. He was, he declared in his curvaceous vowels, “not a fish thrower” nor about to change his name to “Captain Haddock.” Such theatrics would not fit his brand of calm and courteous pronouncements delivered in stiff collars and double- breasted suits. Instead, from the solid footing of the Embankment, he piggybacked on the publicity generated by Farage, whom he has succeeded as the Leaver Nation’s darling. There he stood, delivering his courtly analysis on all matters fishy, following up with a pun-filled tweet, which garnered thousands of likes. Thus it was that his management of this stunt edged Rees-Mogg another step closer towards the leadership of a party and country which is—unexpectedly, bizarrely but unmistakably— suddenly within his grasp.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s May issue: More than a dozen writers critique the current state of economics, suggesting there are still lessons to learn more than a decade on from the financial crash. Howard Reed writes that the ideas we hold about the way economics works need to be ripped up. Ten of the world’s best living economists explain what, in their view, is the single most important lesson economics still has to learn, and Linda Yueh suggests what three of the past masters would think about economics today. Elsewhere in the issue: Vernon Bogdanor outlines why Brexit could cause a constitutional crisis in Britain; Jean H Lee explains why young South Koreans don’t want their country to reunify with their Northern neighbours; Sian Norris writes about the coming battle over abortion and shows where the UK ranks among its European peers; and Sonia Purnell profiles Jacob Rees-Mogg.
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