British Tory Member of Parliament Jacob Rees-Mogg is gaining a massive following on social media. Young people in the U.K. love him. There is a grassroots digital campaign calling on him to stand for leader of the conservative party.
He’s something of a “character,” which might explain why the youth respond to him. Rees-Mogg is a countercultural Euroskeptic whose liturgical preference is for the Tridentine Mass. He and his wife recently had their sixth child, whom they have named (fittingly) Sixtus. Rees-Mogg is never caught wearing denim, or anything else informal; he usually wears a traditional double-breasted suit with tie, his hair neatly trimmed and parted on the left side. Sometimes he wears a black top hat.
If he did not exist, Hollywood would have to invent him. Jacob Rees-Mogg travels with his family in their antique Bentley—the same Bentley that he and his nanny allegedly took canvassing in 1997, when he first stood for a seat in Fife. Contrary to this legend, Rees-Mogg insists: “We took my mother’s Mercedes Estate (not the Bentley).” He explains, “I don’t think a Bentley’s a suitable campaigning car. It was the petrol consumption—six miles to the gallon.”
Today, Rees-Mogg is known for his support of traditional marriage, his opposition to abortion, and his efforts to aid the Brexit campaign in 2016. He is also a renowned practitioner of the filibuster. His filibustering of the Daylight Saving Bill 2010–12 and the Sustainable Livestock Bill 2010–12 prevented their passage through parliament. The Rees-Mogg filibuster is a colorful cultural event that often includes the recitation of poetry, English folk tales, English history, axioms of old English Common Law, and various Latin dicta.
With Brexit negotiations looming, Rees-Mogg rejects the concept of a “soft” or “hard” Brexit. To him, the choice is binary: “In is in. Out is out,” as he says. More importantly, the choice was binary in June 2016 when his countrymen chose to get out. As he explained recently on a panel show, “We knew what we were voting for, we voted, and democracy must deliver. . . . Hard Brexit is a term used by people who do not want us to leave the European Union and regret the result. So, they pretend there is a soft Brexit.” A co-panelist suggested the U.K. could leave the E.U. while still remaining in the European Court of Justice. Rees-Mogg responded:
If we still have our laws determined by the European Court of Justice, then our parliament is no longer able to make all our laws, and the votes of the British peoples do not count because our laws are made and interpreted by a foreign court. We are under the ECJ now and we voted to leave. We cannot allow our laws to be overturned by Brussels if we have left the European Union. It is not only a binary decision, it is a most obviously binary decision. Who your judges are, who interprets your law is fundamental to whether you are an independent nation or not.
On the question of whether or not the British people should vote on the exact details of the exit from Europe, Rees-Mogg answered:
This is characteristic of the E.U.: Vote in the way that Brussels doesn’t like, and you’ve got to vote again till you’ve done what they tell you. It seems to me, we had a referendum, we decided to leave and that must be implemented or we deny democracy.
Jacob Rees-Mogg’s respect for local democracy and resistance to the centralizing tendencies of the European Union are consistent with the Catholic social teaching of subsidiarity. As Pope Pius XI wrote in Quadragesimo anno:
Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.
Only G. K. Chesterton could say it better: “What we should try to do is make politics as local as possible. Keep the politicians near enough to kick them.”
John M. Howting writes from Michigan on the English Catholic literary revival.