Boris Johnson gave Jacob Rees-Mogg “carte blanche” to make life difficult for Rishi Sunak and the Treasury over Brexit, his former communications chief No. 10 claimed.
Guto Harri said the former prime minister had been warned that Mr Sunak, his then chancellor, had become “indigenous” to the Treasury amid growing frustrations over a lack of legislative changes, despite Britain’s newfound freedom to deviate from Brussels.
Mr Rees-Mogg became Johnson’s Minister for Brexit Opportunities in February 2022 and quickly made plans to scrap or reform all inherited EU laws by the end of 2023.
‘Give it all a huge kick’
In the latest episode of his LBC podcast Unprecedented, Mr Harri said: “He took on his job with enthusiasm, immediately warmed to his job, and he warned the Prime Minister that he thought the Brexit government had reached the point where she was deliberately trying to keep the UK in what he called the EU’s ‘moon orbit’.
He warned that the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, had become indigenous. Boris asked him to give it all a huge kick. Jacob Rees-Mogg then warned that he would have to step on some big toes – “little toes, actually,” he added condescendingly, grunting slightly at Rishi Sunak’s size.
“Actually, after chuckling a bit, Boris gave him carte blanche to be a nuisance to the Treasury and to Rishi Sunak. His words were simply ‘go ahead’, and he did, starting with the EU reform law.’
While both Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak supported Britain’s exit from the European Union, their differences over Europe resurfaced earlier this year with the adoption of the Windsor Framework.
Settled population shocked by Brexit
Mr Johnson and Mr Rees-Mogg were both among 22 Tory MPs who voted against a key element of Mr Sunak’s revised deal. Mr Rees-Mogg has also been critical of Finance Minister Kemi Badenoch after she abandoned his commitment to a bonfire of EU laws.
Instead, Ms. Badenoch has published a list of 600 lines to be dropped, emphasizing: “I’m certainly not an arsonist, I’m a conservative.”
Elsewhere in the episode, Mr Harri alleged that Mr Johnson had “faced off” the king at a Commonwealth summit last June – an account denied by sources close to the former prime minister – after it was reported in June last year that the king had privately described the asylum plan as “appalling”.
“For Boris, the attitude of the future king was further evidence that the British establishment was basically shocked by Brexit and ashamed of the attitude of the working class masses who voted for it,” he added.
“He often lashed out at that conception of the establishment as he saw it in the arts, the city, the civil service and the media, once complaining that the Financial Times hated Britain and that their journalists would rather we were led by what he once called ‘a junta of Belgian ticket collectors’.”
Ex-premier distances himself
Mr Harri said there was a “quite candid exchange” between the two men in Kigali, claiming: “I don’t think the relationship (between them) has ever fully recovered.” At the time, their meeting was billed as a “good old chin-wag.”
Despite his personal opposition to Brexit, the former spin doctor insisted critics of the Rwanda plan missed the point by holding a “horrible, terrifying image of machete genocide.”
Instead, he said it now “functions like a Swiss watch” and praised the country as clean, well-functioning and safe.
Recalling Mr Johnson’s frustration at the lack of progress in curbing illegal immigration, despite border control being a central theme of the 2016 Vote Leave campaign, Mr Harri said that the pledge to take back control take “was mocked relentlessly” by record numbers of small boat arrivals.
“Boris became more and more impatient until he spoke out last year. ‘When you eat an elephant’, he said, ‘you have to start with the first bite’.”
A spokesperson for Mr Johnson said: “Boris had no part in this podcast and does not recognize any of its content.”