A Brexit ultra and profound reactionary, the eccentric MP is a strong contender to be the next prime minister. How dangerous is he?
Jacob Rees-Mogg calls it “God’s own country” – that swathe of rural Somerset south of Bath and Bristol where he was raised, and that he now represents in parliament. It is easy to see why the Tory backbencher, who conceivably could become prime minister before too long, loves it so much. When not in his Mayfair town house, or dwelling in some glorious imagined past, he, his wife and their six young children live in Gournay Court, a splendid 400-year-old mansion in the picturesque village of West Harptree at the foot of the Mendip Hills.
A short drive down the Chew River valley in one of his two vintage Bentleys, along narrow lanes flanked by neat hedgerows and pretty stone cottages, takes him back to Hinton Blewett, where he grew up in the Old Rectory with views across rolling farmland. A few miles beyond that is Ston Easton Park, an imposing Georgian pile with landscaped grounds that is now a luxury hotel. There, young Jacob – fourth of the five children of William Rees-Mogg, the distinguished former editor of the Times – spent the earliest years of his life, and was taught the Catholic catechism by his governess.
This is the storybook England of great estates, farms and elegant villages clustered around ancient, steepled churches. Here, the young Rees-Mogg was marinated from birth in English history and tradition. And now, aged 48, he would doubtless consider himself the embodiment of traditional English values.
He has never been seen (except perhaps by his wife) in anything other than a suit and tie. He speaks in sonorous Edwardian English and is unfailingly courteous. To be born British, he says, is “to win first prize in the lottery of life”. Not long ago he asked the House of Commons: “What greater pleasure can there be for a true-born Englishman [than] to listen to our national anthem… to listen to those words that link us to our sovereign who is part of that chain that takes us back to our immemorial history.” The Economist recently described him as “the blue passport in human form, the red telephone box made flesh, the Royal Yacht Britannia in a pinstripe suit”.
But Rees-Mogg’s many foes insist his values are those of a zealot, not those of modern Britain such as moderation, tolerance, inclusivity and compassion for the needy. His critics like him as a person and enjoy his intelligence, humour and self-deprecation, but contend that his old-school charm and civility mask extreme, doctrinaire positions not just on Brexit, but on almost every other social and economic issue including abortion, welfare and climate change. Rees-Mogg certainly has no time for “One Nation” or “compassionate” Conservatism, or for the “modernising” project begun by David Cameron. He unashamedly champions what he calls “full-blooded Toryism”. He has gained a passionate following among young Tories for whom – in an age of technocratic career politicians – the fact he is a character with strong beliefs appears more important than what those beliefs may be. But older, more centrist members of the party are appalled.
“You would only elect him leader of the Conservative Party if you didn’t want to win an election ever again,” one grandee and former cabinet minister told me.
“I couldn’t stay in a party led by somebody like him,” said Anna Soubry, the prominent backbench Remainer, earlier this month. Heidi Allen, another Conservative MP, has said the same, adding: “He’s not the modern face of the Tory party I and colleagues are desperate to prove is out there.”
Matthew Parris, the commentator and former Tory MP, was even blunter in the Times: “For the 21st-century Conservative Party Jacob Rees-Mogg would be pure hemlock. His manners are perfumed but his opinions are poison. Rees-Mogg is quite simply an unfailing, unbending, unrelenting reactionary.”
Rees-Mogg declined the New Statesman’s requests for an interview for this profile, citing a lack of time. However, he did find time last year for an hour-long podcast interview with Breitbart, the ultra-right-wing US website that helped to propel Donald Trump into the White House. Host James Delingpole introduced Rees-Mogg as his “most exciting guest ever” and “the sexiest thing from a right-wing perspective in British politics”. Rees-Mogg, an early supporter of Trump, also found time before Christmas to meet Steve Bannon, the US president’s former chief ideologue, in a Mayfair hotel. Raheem Kassam, the former Ukip luminary who brokered the meeting, said “the discussions focused on how we move forward with winning for the conservative movements on both sides of the pond”.
It may not be his fault, but Rees-Mogg has led a relentlessly privileged life. He spent his early years as a pupil at Westminster Under School, which educates boys aged seven to 13. While there, he played the stock markets using a £50 inheritance from a relative, standing up at the General Electric Company’s annual meeting and castigating a board – that included his father – for the firm’s “pathetic” dividend. A contemporary newspaper photograph showed the precocious 12-year-old solemnly reading the Financial Times beside his teddy bears.
He proceeded, inevitably, to Eton, and from there to Trinity College, Oxford, to read history. An ardent young Thatcherite who had imbibed Euroscepticism at his father’s knee, he became president of the university’s Conservative Association, debated at the Oxford Union, and would nip down to London to help out at Conservative Central Office. He had his own telephone installed in his college room. He incurred mockery for suggesting students should wear a “full morning suit”, and embraced the mortarboard – “I do so like to cycle around Oxford with it on.” One former student who knew him at university called him a “ghastly snob”. After graduating, he worked briefly for the Rothschild investment bank. He then spent three years with Lloyd George Investment in Hong Kong, before returning to London to run some of that firm’s emerging market funds. Surprisingly, since Rees-Mogg so passionately supports the reckless gamble with the British economy that is Brexit, a recent FT investigation described him as a cautious investor whose performance was “less than stellar”.
In 2007, Rees-Mogg and several colleagues left Lloyd George to set up Somerset Capital Management – one source of his estimated £100m personal fortune. Another source is his wife, Helena, the only child of the former Tory MP Somerset de Chair and Lady Juliet Tadgell, an heiress and former Marchioness of Bristol who is said to be worth £45m. Rees-Mogg met Helena while campaigning for a referendum on the EU constitution. He proposed in front of one of the half-dozen Van Dyck paintings that hang in her family’s stately home, Bourne Park in Kent. They were married in 2007 before 650 guests in Canterbury Cathedral, the archbishop having authorised a Tridentine mass in ecclesiastical Latin in light of Rees-Mogg’s fervent Catholicism. The couple now have six children aged between seven months and ten, all bearing the names of Catholic popes and saints. Following the birth of Sixtus last July, Rees-Mogg admitted he had never changed a nappy, adding: “Nanny does it brilliantly.”
The first recorded instance of him mingling at length with common folk came when he was selected, somewhat improbably, as the Conservative candidate for Central Fife in 1997. He toured council estates with the aforementioned nanny, Veronica Crook, in tow (she was his nanny, too, before looking after his children). Something was lost in translation, however, for Rees-Mogg came a distant third, securing just 3,669 votes. “The number of voters in my favour dropped as soon as I opened my mouth,” he said.
Four years later, Rees-Mogg stood again, this time in The Wrekin in Shropshire. He came second with 38 per cent of the vote, down 2 per cent on the Tories’ performance in 1997, despite a small uptick in the party’s national vote. Thereafter, the Kensington and Chelsea Conservatives rejected him for “lacking the common touch”, but he was eventually selected as the Tory candidate in his native North East Somerset, despite opposition from the party leadership. Cameron allegedly felt Rees-Mogg’s exceedingly patrician mien would undermine his efforts to modernise the party. The then Tory leader certainly encouraged Rees-Mogg’s sister, Annunziata, the party’s unsuccessful 2010 candidate in neighbouring Somerset and Frome, to shorten her name on the campaign trail to Nancy Mogg, but she refused.
Jacob Rees-Mogg was elected to parliament in 2010, with a majority of 4,914 that he has since doubled. He and his family spend about three weekends a month in the constituency. He responds to constituents by letter, not email, because – an aide told me – “he thinks people should get their own personally signed reply”. Even his political opponents concede that he is a diligent constituency MP, though they question his ability to understand the less affluent.
“I’ve always found him very polite. He obviously cares about his family,” said Robin Moss, Labour’s candidate in the constituency last year. “But he hasn’t the remotest idea of what it’s like to live on Universal Credit or be homeless. He’s never put his hand in his pocket and realised there’s nothing there.”
At first, Rees-Mogg was regarded in Westminster as a colourful, eccentric and entertaining MP, but hardly leadership material. He broke the record for the longest word uttered in the Commons chamber with “floccinaucinihilipilification” (the action or habit of estimating something as worthless). He called for Somerset to be allowed to set its own time zone, as it could before all British times were harmonised in the 1840s. He suggested council officials wear bowler hats to identify themselves as “thorough-going bureaucrats”. He joined the all-party parliamentary group for historic vehicles. He wore a top hat to Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. In one interview, “the honourable member for the 18th century” struggled to name a single pop group, and he began appearing on Have I Got News for You as some sort of amusing relic from the age of Downton Abbey.
Occasionally, he went too far. In 2013 he addressed a dinner of the Traditional Britain Group, which favoured the voluntary repatriation of black immigrants. That was “clearly a mistake”, he admitted. He also angered his party leadership by supporting an electoral arrangement with Ukip ahead of the 2015 general election.
But it was the 2016 EU referendum that raised his stature from that of a backbench ornament. Rees-Mogg campaigned vigorously for Leave, and has continued to fight for the hardest, purest form of Brexit ever since. In the wake of Theresa May’s insipid general election performance in 2017, he was seized on by young Conservatives desperate for a bold, colourful leader to take on Jeremy Corbyn – and so, the personality cult of “Moggmentum” was launched. (He joined Instagram and Twitter around the same time.) To persuade him to run for leader, two young activists, Anne Sutherland and Sam Frost, set up an online petition – “Ready for Rees-Mogg” – that now has more than 41,000 signatories, making it the biggest right-leaning campaign group in Britain. “We have a bunch of very, very boring people at the top of the Conservative Party, so someone who’s a bit different and not a classic cookie-cutter Tory minister is very exciting,” Frost told me.
Rees-Mogg’s rise continued. In September 2017 he emerged as the most popular potential leader in a monthly poll of more than 1,300 Tory members run by the website ConservativeHome, and has remained top in nearly every survey since. In October, he was the star of the party conference in Manchester, addressing packed fringe meetings while the main hall was half-empty. He has become something of a media celebrity, and gained a valuable new platform in January when he was elected chairman of the European Research Group, a cabal of 30 to 60 ultra-Brexiteer Tory MPs recently described by Peter Wilby in this magazine as “more of a party within a party than [Labour’s] Momentum”.
As the standard-bearer of the “swivel-eyed” brigade, he exerts relentless pressure to prevent May backsliding as she negotiates Britain’s departure from the EU. He speaks out when her red lines “are beginning to look a little bit pink”. He rejects any deal that would turn Britain into a “vassal state” or amount to “Brino” (an acronym for “Brexit in name only”). He objects to the negotiations becoming a “damage limitation exercise”, or to any suggestion that Brussels is dictating to Britain. He wants the UK out of the single market and customs union, even if that means crashing out of the EU without a deal. He is admired by Ukip supporters and is Nigel Farage’s preferred choice as the next Conservative leader.
In much the same way that Trump trashes the FBI to discredit its investigation of his Russian links, Rees-Mogg recently accused the Treasury of “fiddling the figures” to exaggerate the economic damage of Brexit. “He’s theologically opposed to having policy driven by evidence and facts, insisting that anyone who disagrees must be lying or relying on false information,” one former Tory minister complained. But Rees-Mogg has uncompromising views that extend far beyond Brexit. He opposes the 1998 Human Rights Act, gay marriage and all abortion, even in cases of rape and incest – though he insists he would not seek to re-criminalise it. “I take my whip from the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church rather than the Whips’ Office,” he says.
He believes that “you alleviate poverty by trickle-down economics” or what some might call “sink-or-swim”. To that end, according to the website TheyWorkForYou, he has voted against a “mansion tax” on homes costing more than £2m, a bankers’ bonus tax, and tax increases for those earning more than £150,000. He has voted in favour of reductions in corporation and capital gains taxes, as well as greater regulation of trade unions.
Rees-Mogg has opposed increases in welfare benefits, even for the disabled – “the safety net [has] become a trap”, he contends. He supports zero-hours contracts, arguing that they benefit both employers and employees. He backed the controversial “bedroom tax” on council tenants deemed to be living in properties larger than they needed, and caused anger last autumn by appearing to welcome the fast-growing number of food banks. “To have charitable support given by people voluntarily to support their fellow citizens I think is rather uplifting and shows what a good, compassionate country we are,” he told LBC radio. Rees-Mogg is also a climate change sceptic who opposes costly measures to reduce greenhouse gases. “Even if the greens are right, Britain will make very little difference on her own,” he said. “I would rather my constituents were warm and prosperous than cold and impoverished as we are overtaken by emerging markets who understandably put people before polar bears.”
And so the list goes on. He opposes foreign aid because “this is not the job of the government but ought to be a matter of private charity”. He regards fox hunting as “the most humane way of controlling the fox population”. He supports the sale of state-owned forests, the mass surveillance of communications on security grounds, and restrictions on legal aid. He opposes any more devolution of powers to Scotland and Wales.
He wants tougher immigration and asylum rules, and is no fan of positive discrimination. In 2006, he resisted Cameron’s efforts to increase the number of Conservative parliamentary candidates from ethnic minorities. “Ninety-five per cent of this country is white,” he said. “The list can’t be totally different from the country at large.”
“He had these sort of views when he was eight or nine. To still have them when he’s 48 seems to me to be pushing it a bit,” Chris Patten, the former Tory chairman, fellow Catholic and old friend of Rees-Mogg’s family, told me. “I don’t think they
have very much relevance to Britain’s problems in the 21st century, and the idea he could lead his party in this century is completely absurd.”
On the face of it, the idea is indeed absurd. Rees-Mogg has never held ministerial office (nor had Cameron when he became prime minister, but he had spent four years as leader of the opposition before forming a government in coalition with the Liberal Democrats). Except for his indisputable charm, Rees-Mogg comes across as a cartoon caricature of a Tory right-winger, and the ultimate toff in what is supposed to be a modern, egalitarian country. How he would play in Swansea, Sunderland or Stoke is anyone’s guess, for he seldom visits such places. Moreover, Rees-Mogg denies any interest in replacing May. If he threw his hat into the ring it would be thrown straight back at him, he protests. He has six young children, he adds.
And yet it might happen. “Yes it’s fanciful, but it’s not impossible,” says Paul Goodman, the former MP who edits ConservativeHome.
Few take Rees-Mogg’s protestations of disinterest seriously. As an 11-year-old he declared his intention to be “a millionaire by 20, a multi-millionaire by 40 and prime minister by 70”. He is now the bookies’ clear favourite as well as ConservativeHome’s frontrunner. He is speaking regularly at universities. “I’m absolutely sure he will stand,” a friend of his told me.
Rees-Mogg’s challenge will be to persuade the right of the parliamentary party to select him, rather than a cabinet-level Brexiteer, as one of the two candidates to be presented to the party membership.
He would be their riskiest choice, and Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, doubts he would prevail. “It’s one thing for a lot of members of the public, or the party, to think it’s great fun and admire him for never mincing his words and speaking 18th century English,” he told young activists in an unguarded moment at University College London in January. “It’s another to see that translating to being the prime minister and connecting with the whole of the country. So, no, I don’t see it happening.”
However, Rees-Mogg is a polished public performer and is untainted by last summer’s disastrous election. He has more charisma than Michael Gove, none of Boris Johnson’s personal baggage, and a substantial following among young Conservatives and those older, pro-Brexit party members who will have the final say. “In the end he’s a bit of a radical punt for his colleagues, but if he gets in the last two he will win,” said one supporter who follows the party’s internal machinations closely. Whether Rees-Mogg could win over the wider electorate is a moot point. He might prefer the fountain pen, but he is increasingly adept at social media. Supporters believe voters would warm to a politician who gives straight answers, who is funny and engaging, and whom they see as sincere and authentic even if they disagree with his views. They point to the equally improbable rise of Corbyn.
But the Jacobite rising faces fierce opposition. Late last week, Rees-Mogg was greeted by two separate sets of protesters when he arrived for a debate at the Cambridge Union – EU supporters and gay rights activists. “I never entertained the idea I’d see a politician like him so close to power. That’s absolutely terrifying for the future of this country,” Jessamyn Starr, one of the former, said. “He stands for bigotry and intolerance,” said Matt Kite, organiser of the LGBT “Kiss-in for Rees-Mogg”. “We won’t stand for people like him being wined and dined and applauded when his words have real consequences for people like us.”
Inside, Rees-Mogg was at ease in his dinner jacket. He spoke eloquently and humorously in support of the motion: “This house believes no deal is better than a bad deal.” He failed to address the consequences of “no deal”, but again dismissed the Treasury’s dire economic forecasts – “if you believe those you’ll frankly believe anything” – and castigated the EU for proposing that mobility scooters be insured. “Do we really want to make our elderly people zooming around on those marvellous mobility scooters pay an extra fee over which we have no say?” he asked.
But it was the passionate response of Rees-Mogg’s fellow Conservative MP, Nicky Morgan, the former education secretary, that stole the show. For her, the debate was no game. She tore into Rees-Mogg’s Brexiteer allies for labelling pro-Remain MPs “saboteurs”, and judges “enemies of the people”. She spelled out the catastrophic consequences of Britain leaving the EU without a deal. “Who does want ‘no deal’?” she asked, before providing her own answer: “Those who wish this country ill and want to destabilise it. Those who want us to be a minimal tax, minimal regulation [country]. And those political ideologues who are so caught up in the majesty of Brexit that they have forgotten who loses out – including the little old lady on her mobility scooter – because our economy can’t look after the elderly properly.” The packed chamber burst into applause. Rees-Mogg looked a little shaken. The motion was lost.
He’s the most effective demagogue in a generation. Now he sets the agenda.
LONDON — Nigel Farage is the British crisis in human form. His party, the unambiguously named Brexit Party, which is hardly a party and didn’t exist six months ago, won nearly a third of the British vote in the recent European Parliament elections, putting it in first place and driving the shattered Conservative Party into fifth. Long underestimated, Mr. Farage has done more than any politician in a generation to yank British politics to the hard, nationalist right. He is one of the most effective and dangerous demagogues Britain has ever seen.
With his last political vehicle, the U.K. Independence Party, or UKIP, Mr. Farage took an assortment of Tory retirees and a smattering of ex-fascists and other right-wing cranks, and welded them into a devastating political weapon: a significant national party. That weapon tore such chunks out of the Conservatives’ share of the vote that the party leadership felt compelled to call a referendum on Europe — which it then lost. Mr. Farage declared victory and went into semiretirement as a pundit.
Now, almost three years after the Brexit vote, he’s back. His timing could hardly be better. After a “lost decade” of declining living standards and flat wage growth, trust in Parliament and the news media is at rock bottom. The Conservatives are disintegrating; Prime Minister Theresa May is on her way out of office, having failed to secure a parliamentary majority for her Brexit deal. She failed because, rather than seeking cross-party consensus, she tried to placate her own hard right and prevent voters from abandoning the party — again. Unable to do so, she has simply hardened public opinion.
A poll in April found that given a choice between remaining in the European Union, and leaving with no deal, 44 percent of Britons support “no deal.” The vast majority of these voters previously supported the Conservatives. But since they are the party of business, they can’t seriously contemplate leaving without a deal. Nor can Parliament.
The resulting stalemate, combined with an election in which the main parties barely campaign, presented Mr. Farage with an easy target. And thanks to his success, there is enormous pressure on the Conservatives to deliver Brexit in October, deal or no deal. Boris Johnson, likely to replace Mrs. May as prime minister, is now pledging to do just that.
The Brexit Party’s campaign was a one-man show. While it has a sophisticated digital strategy, the party has no members and no manifesto, and none of its candidates were democratically selected. It offered only one policy: a “No Deal” Brexit. Its rallies focus on star performances by Mr. Farage, introduced with thundering motivational music. He is a gifted communicator, verbally dexterous, with a sense of humor.
Like many English reactionaries — including Mr. Johnson — he speaks in a nostalgic, “old world” register. He doesn’t talk about taxes or privatization. He talks about unfairness and loss, about the sovereignty supposedly ceded to Europe, immigration and elite cosmopolitans. And he names a placebo solution within reach: Brexit. The great escape. It’s a powerful antidepressant.
It is ironic that Mr. Farage appeals to people who are besieged by precisely the kind of volatile financial capitalism that he champions. He is, like President Trump, that paradoxical figure: the capitalist populist. He made his money as a City trader during the boom years of the 1980s, reveling in its adrenaline-fueled, heavy-drinking culture. He is the Gordon Gekko of British politics. It’s striking, to those who care to look, just how much his agenda is about class interest: He opposes extended maternity leave, raising the minimum wage and reducing the retirement age — anything that inconveniences his nouveau riche confederates. If he had his way, many of his supporters would be working harder, longer, for less money, with less protection. That, indeed, is his Brexit dream: Singapore on the Thames.
Even his racism is class-bound. Mr. Farage’s problem is not just with immigrants, it seems, but with poor immigrants especially: those from Eastern Europe, or Muslim countries, or those with H.I.V. He has said he would be uncomfortable with Romanians as neighbors, but he married a woman from Germany. He hates the European Union because its moderate social legislation and free movement defy what he thinks is a Darwinian cultural ecology through which some rise and others fall.
It is a mistake to overstate his “white working-class” base — UKIP included plenty of professionals and managers — but he has wooed many older, white workers, remote from the center of financial power where he built his career. Some were ex-Labour voters in manual jobs. His offer to them is that, in a society of dog-eat-dog competition, they will not have to compete with foreign workers. This is why the liberal press’s muckraking about his racism and far-right connections, by itself, generally doesn’t work. Far from impeding Mr. Farage, racism is his ticket to success. It puts him on the same side as his poorest voters.
With Parliament deadlocked and the Conservatives nearing their death throes, Mr. Farage has spotted an opportunity: a new political model, inspired by the Five Star Movement in Italy. A “digital platform” that harnesses the free labor of its “users,” allowing them “participation” through content-sharing and online polls, rather than rights. Parliamentary democracy is slow at the best of times, and these are not the best of times. Such platforms, however, introduce volatility to the system. Dropping UKIP, a traditional membership party, he launched something like a venture capitalist start-up, with crowdfunders rather than members, and a chief executive rather than a leader.
Hence, the Brexit Party. Unlike older party models, it doesn’t invest in lasting infrastructure. It is nimble-footed, expert at gaming social media — the stock market of attention. It won the battle for clicks, and made a killing in this election. Such online frenzies are akin to destabilizing flows of hot money, forcing legacy parties to adapt or die. But when Parliament is so weak, its legitimacy so tenuous, they can look like democratic upsurge.
That may be Mr. Farage’s ultimate triumph. The quintessential City trader and apostle of cutthroat competition, he is exploiting our democratic crisis to remake politics in his own image.
.. there was the stunning revelation that we found out that the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix, had actually reached out to WikiLeaks. So it had got hold of Julian Assange. And this was in August, before the Trump election. And he offered to help distribute Hillary’s stolen emails.
So that was a kind of mind-blowing moment for me news-wise because the idea that, you know, we knew that WikiLeaks was consequential in the U.S. election, and we knew that Cambridge Analytica was, but we had no idea that there was a sort of channel of communication between them.
.. The second alarm bell was that Chris had this insane presentation that he pulled out which Cambridge Analytica had given to Lukoil, which is a massive Russian state oil company. And the presentation just didn’t make any sense because supposedly it was the sort of advertising pitching Cambridge Analytica do – commercial work. But the presentation was all about influencing elections. Why would you be pitching a Russian oil company in how to manipulate voters?
.. I do think that it was having an American newspaper which forced Facebook as an American company to take note. And that was also what helped force Zuckerberg in front of Congress. So I do kind of give tribute to our American partners in helping bring that about. I kind of think that Facebook considers the rest of the world as lesser, as less consequential, as less important. And, you know, I really feel that’s what’s happening with its refusal to come to parliament. I really do very seriously think that Britain should consider banning Facebook from having any role in any of our elections because if you’ve got a foreign company which is playing an absolutely pivotal role in your elections but yet it’s completely unaccountable and it won’t even answer questions to lawmakers then I think you’ve got a really, really serious problem in terms of national security.
.. another British figure who Americans are probably not familiar with but played a key role in the Brexit campaign and may be a link to Russia. And his name is Arron Banks.
.. So Arron Banks, he’s a businessman based in Bristol, in the West Country here, and he’s the bankroller of it. So Arron Banks gave more money towards the Brexit campaign than any other person in Britain. And he is this strange and – I wouldn’t say strange character, but there’s just so many questions. Essentially, we don’t know where Arron Banks’ money comes from. And that is a source of one other investigation into Britain. He’s married to a Russian woman, Katya Banks.
.. And one of the key people he met in London was Ambassador Yakovenko. And Ambassador Yakovenko is described by Mueller as a high-level contact between the Trump campaign in the Kremlin.
.. We had two Brexit campaigns in Britain. That’s why I have to make the distinction. And on the same day that he launched it, he went to the Russian Embassy with his associates, and at the Russian Embassy, we know that the Russian ambassador introduced him to an oligarch called Siman Povarenkin, and Povarenkin offered him a couple of lucrative potential business deals. One of them was a gold deal. It was about buying into six separate gold mines and consolidating them. And one was this very intriguing one. Alrosa, it was called. And that was a state diamond mining company in Russia.
.. He always said he had met the Russian ambassador. But he’d met him only once. He’d had one boozy lunch with him. And this was something he’d carried on saying for – for two years, he said that. He had that line very consistently. And now – we’re now up to – it’s 11 meetings between him and the ambassador, or between his associates and the political secretary at the embassy.
And it’s just, why did he lie about it? Why did he lie about it? It’s, like, always the question you come back to with these things.
.. People in America, I don’t think, have realized this fully. And people in Britain certainly haven’t realized this fully. But they overlap very, very distinctly. And, you know, one of the points we have in common with America is simply that our laws and our democracy was not prepared for what hit it in 2016. And by that, I mean because all of our laws were around sort of ensuring that our vote was free and fair in terms of a sort of 19th century model of how you run elections and how you control spending. And with the rise of the Internet, that just changed everything.
.. So in just a few years, everything is being done via Facebook, and to some degree, via Google. And that’s all in complete darkness. So the thing about Facebook, and the thing which is so frustrating in terms of being able to get any answers from it, is that these are black boxes.
.. And we know that all of these advertisements, which were shown in the referendum, all the data went through the Facebook’s servers. They know a lot of the answers we’re scratching around as journalists and trying to figure out from the tiny clues left on the surface.
And it comes back to, time and time again, the role of Silicon Valley in these elections is the really, really key thing. And Russia exposed that weakness.
.. The Russian Embassy Twitter account is this extraordinary thing. It trolls me. It trolls other journalists. It trolls, like, MPs. And I thought it was the Russian Embassy first. And it had my article about Arron Banks and the gold deals and his meetings with the embassy. It had a picture – a screenshot of that. It put fake news stamped over it. And then it said, this journalist lies, or this journalist conspirator or something. And it tagged me into it.
And then I realized it wasn’t even the Russian Embassy Twitter account. It was the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Twitter account. So this is the Kremlin. This is the government agency in Moscow, which directs all of Russia’s foreign affairs, targeting me specifically via its Twitter feed and calling me a conspirator and writing, fake news, and going in to defend Arron Banks and Nigel Farage, interestingly.
.. And the thing is about it, this thing is just being normalized. It does it in this jokey way. And this is also what we saw from the Leave EU campaign – Arron Banks and Nigel Farage’s campaign. By doing things in this jokey fashion, it normalizes it. And then you go a bit further.
.. the Russian Embassy started writing me letters and calling my journalism – calling me a bad journalist and with an agenda and spreading lies, et cetera. And at the same time, Arron Banks and Nigel Farage’s campaign were retweeting the Russian Embassy. And then they did this, like, mock video of me, so they took a clip of the film “Airplane!” and it was a woman being hysterical in the film. It’s like a spoof. People come and slap her around the face, and then they threaten her with a gun. They’d Photoshopped my face into that video, and they’d added the Russian national anthem to the music behind it.
.. And again it looked like a joke. It was like ha ha ha ha ha ha (ph), look at this hysterical woman. But it was intended to unnerve me. And initially, I was just kind of like, well, this is just weird. But then hundreds – literally thousands of people actually reported that to Twitter and to the police and to Leave.EU and it didn’t come down. And this is why what is going on on the Internet is – and that the role of the tech giants is so invidious and so problematic because Facebook and Twitter and Google, it look – these look like public spaces. We are all communicating through them and mingling in them, but they’re not. They’re private companies. And this is why the Russian government has been able to exploit these things in the way that it has. And that’s what’s made democracy so vulnerable.
.. because I’m experiencing this kind of viscerally, this information warfare sort of viscerally, and I’m experiencing it from these forces, these campaigns in my own country. So Leave.EU, this is a domestic, political campaign here. And when we get hold of these emails, Arron Banks’ emails, we discovered that they were communicating with the Russian Embassy about social media messaging. This idea that they were actually coordinating in their attacks on certain things that – there’s that those levels of sinister in this which I really don’t think should be treated like a joke.
despite the formation of an anti-establishment coalition government in Italy, and the rise of populist parties across Europe, opinion polls suggest that support for the EU is now higher than it has been in decades. According to a recent Eurobarometer survey, if a referendum on EU membership were held today, 83% of Europeans would vote to remain in the bloc; and a record-high 60% regard EU membership as a “good thing” for their country.
.. In other words, while populism can certainly sow political divisions within the EU, there is little evidence that Brexit itself has caused a domino effect.
The Brexit ringleader Nigel Farage might like to think that Italy’s new populist government represents a success for his brand of go-it-alone nationalism, but it turns out that Europe’s populists are of a different breed than those in the UK. Though financial markets have grown skittish at the prospect that Italy’s new leaders could drive their country out of the eurozone, polling conducted after the election in March showed that 60-72% of Italians would not support such a move.
.. Just 32% of citizens believe that “things are going in the right direction” for the EU
.. Trump’s tariffs have thus provided a perfect opportunity for Germany’s grand-coalition government to meet Macron halfway on his ambitious proposals to reform the EU and the eurozone.
.. Trump revels in the chaos he sows. He regards international relations as a zero-sum game of winners and losers, and, to the extent that his foreign and trade policies make any sense at all, they are transactional. By contrast, the EU’s modus operandi is one of collaboration and compromise. And now that these two worldviews are colliding, each is likely to be emboldened.