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Jacob Rees-Mogg: It's Cameron's fault that May could not bully me

Jacob Rees-Mogg effectively blamed the current Brexit mess on David Cameron and Sir Oliver Letwin, says Robert Peston. Credit: Credit: PA

On a very odd day, perhaps the weirdest moment on my show last night was when Jacob Rees-Mogg effectively blamed the current Brexit mess - for which some would say he shares some responsibility (ahem) - on David Cameron and Sir Oliver Letwin, for making it very hard to call general elections.

The chairman of the Tory Brexiter European Research Group said that he would probably not have voted against the prime minister's deal in January, when she held her first meaningful vote, if she had made that vote a confidence motion - such that losing it would have triggered a general election and seen him thrown out of the party he loves.

Jacob Rees-Mogg has effectively passed blame to Theresa May's predecessor, David Cameron. Credit: Credit: PA

It is a pretty rum state of affairs when Rees-Mogg bemoans that Theresa May could not hold died-in-the-wool Brexit rebels like himself to ransom, because of the Fixed Term Parliament Act that was the progeny of the 2010 coalition government, led by Cameron and with Letwin as midwife.

If only, he says, the executive arm of government, led by Theresa May, had been stronger - which it would be, he says, if her own MPs knew that their jobs as MPs were on the line each time they rebel.

Theresa May arriving at the Houses of Parliament after she said she will not remain in post for the next phase of Brexit negotiations. Credit: Credit: PA

Rees-Mogg's generous admission that the current chaos isn't just May's personal fault but is also due to the hand dealt her by Cameron will be grim comfort to her: she might wonder why MPs like Rees-Mogg aren't sufficiently motivated by old-fashioned party loyalty.

This arguing over who really messed things up - predictably on this occasion between three old Etonians - will go on for some time.

Rees-Mogg's prescription is that what is needed now, as he belatedly swings behind the prime minister's deal - unless that is the DUP remain refuseniks (which it seems they will) - is a new prime minister who will show the necessary drive and leadership to turn the divorce arrangement with the EU that he hates into what he sees as a proper Brexit in the next long phase of Brexit talks.

Rees-Mogg has shifted blame to Sir Oliver Letwin and David Cameron. Credit: Credit: PA

It is all about the person in charge, for him, including instilling confidence that the Northern Ireland backstop, that is Kryptonite for most ERG Tories, isn't forever.

Who will be the liberator, I asked? The world and her civil partner assume that for Rees-Mogg it has to be Boris Johnson - especially since they've both had Damascene conversions to May's constant sermon that her Brexit is better than no Brexit.

So will he be Johnson's point man in the looming battle to succeed May? "Ask me next week" Rees-Mogg told me. Hmmm. We have our answer.

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PS Cunning Dominic Raab is out-manoeuvring Johnson and Rees-Mogg in the battle that has started for the hearts, minds and votes of Tory "True Brexiters" - by calling on the PM to do what the DUP want and return to Brussels to insert just a few little words into the Withdrawal Agreement to build an escape hatch into the backstop.

There is zero chance of the PM doing that, as the chief secretary Liz Truss confirmed on my show. But she also banged on about how the only big Brexit vote the PM has ever won was the so-called Brady amendment, which saw parliament vote in favour of blowing up the backstop.

Which felt like the preface to her own leadership manifesto.

They're under starter's orders.