Jacob Rees-Mogg dished up a peak Mogg performance in the House of Commons

Harriet Brewis
Thursday 18 March 2021 17:21
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Jacob Rees-Mogg is no stranger to ruffled feathers.

One could say the Tory MP has made a sport of pushing people’s buttons (remembering that green bench lie-down).

But today the Commons Leader managed to raise eyebrows and spark rage all within the same parliamentary session.

Over the course of his appearance on Thursday he suggested Welsh was a foreign language, praised a man who has become something of a pantomime villain – Dominic Cummings, and apparently smeared a journalist who was just doing his job.

Addressing Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, he raised the point that “modest quotation in a foreign language is permissible,” before citing the examples that “some honourable members occasionally use Latin quips and Welsh quips and Scots’ quotations.”

However, Plaid Cymru leader Liz Saville Roberts later pointed out on Twitter: “Jacob Rees Mogg may not be aware, but Welsh is not a ‘foreign language’. It had been spoken in Britain for hundreds of years before English even existed.

“Proof, if ever it were needed, that Etonian eloquence =/= education.”

In a separate discussion of Cummings during business questions, Rees-Mogg defended Boris Johnson’s former right-hand man as an “excellent public servant who has done a great deal for this country.”

“Not least,” he continued, “in the Brexit referendum in his energetic and effective campaigning, but also in providing energy for Her Majesty’s Government.”

But his most contentious comments came when he accused HuffPost UK journalist Arj Singh of “shockingly distorting” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab’s comments during an interview, branding Singh’s work “low-quality journalism”.

A leaked video call, published by the news site, suggested Raab told officials the UK should strike trade deals with nations that do not meet European standards on human rights.

Defending himself against the criticism, Singh tweeted: “Commons leader Jacob Rees Mogg has just told MPs that Dominic Raab's own comments which came out of his own mouth and were recorded on tape were ‘shockingly distorted by low quality journalism’ by me.”

Alongside the caption, he posted a recording of the conversation, adding: “Judge for yourself...”

Meanwhile, HuffPost UK editor-in-chief Jess Brammar tweeted: “To use parliamentary privilege to smear a journalist – knowing you can’t be sued for defamation because you are saying it in Parliament – is extremely troubling.

“We stand by Arj and his journalism. Produce your evidence, Jacob Rees-Mogg, or retract and set the record straight.”

Fellow Twitter users rushed to Singh’s defence, with the Guardian’s political correspondent Peter Walker commenting: “Rees-Mogg also displayed some fairly crass media snobbery by accusing Arj - who is an excellent and honest reporter – of exemplifying "that type of poor-quality, online journalism", adding: It’s not the sort of thing that would happen in the Times."

However, as HuffPost UK’s Executive Editor for politics, Paul Waugh, noted: “@Jacob_Rees_Mogg clearly missed the Times front page with the same quotes.”

Labour shadow Commons leader Valerie Vaz later raised a point of order and said of Rees-Mogg: “He may have inadvertently misled the House when he used words like ‘cheat’ and ‘edit’ the recording about something I raised in relation to the Foreign Secretary.

“I’ve had this from the journalist in question and the HuffPost: ‘We did not edit any recording passed to us and quoted it in full.’

“If the Leader is not prepared to repeat it outside then he must withdraw it and apologise now, otherwise he’s casting aspersions on the integrity of a journalist.”

But Mr Rees-Mogg repeated a Foreign Office statement which claimed the audio containing Mr Raab’s remarks had been “deliberately and selectively clipped to distort” them.

He told MPs: “If the journalist didn’t clip it himself, he ought to have known it was clipped. He is either a knave or a fool.”

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