John Major’s ‘full gloat’ over Rees-Mogg’s failed challenge

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It was summer, the Conservatives were in turmoil over Europe and a fellow called Rees-Mogg was proving to be a thorn in the side of the prime minister.

Not 2018, but 1993. Newly released official documents from the time reveal the glee of John Major when he scored a notable victory over his would-be nemesis.

That year, William Rees-Mogg, father of the current MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, former editor of The Times and a crossbench peer in the House of Lords, launched a legal bid to thwart Mr Major over the Maastricht Treaty.

He applied to the courts seeking leave to apply for judicial review of the government’s intention to ratify the agreement which turned the European Community into the European Union and led to the creation of the euro.

The issue had already split the Conservative Party in Parliament, and government lawyers warned ministers could be in contempt of court if they went ahead before legal proceedings had been resolved.

William Rees-Mogg
William Rees-Mogg is the father of current MP Jacob Rees-Mogg (PA)

“The outcome was even better than our lawyers had expected,” his private secretary Roderic Lyne informed him.

“The Foreign Secretary (Douglas Hurd) is exercising restraint in public comment for the time being.

“He does not wish to provoke the Rees-Mogg brigade into a further Quixotic action if there is a chance that they will abandon their expensive and ultimately pointless exercise.”

Mr Major was having none of it. “Good,” he wrote. “A full gloat is merited.”

The files also show how, as the economy struggled, Mr Major sought inspiration from an unlikely source – the wartime British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley.

The prime minister requested details of the policies for economic regeneration advocated in the 1920s and 1930s by Mosley and by Winston Churchill when he was chancellor of the exchequer.

William Chapman, the official instructed to assist, said Mosley’s plans included an emergency pensions scheme to encourage people to retire early releasing jobs for others, and a programme of construction works including drainage and slum clearance.

“Mosley also considered that an insulated economic system of the United Kingdom and the Empire was necessary (later this became the UK within Europe),” he wrote.

Major’s response to the paper is not recorded and there is no evidence it influenced his plans.

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