September 19, 2018 / 12:43 PM / a month ago

Jacob Rees-Mogg distances himself from Steve Bannon

LONDON (Reuters) - One of the leading British politicians pushing for a sharp exit from the European Union, Jacob Rees-Mogg, says he has no interest in joining a campaign to disrupt EU operations organised by former Trump White House advisor Steve Bannon.

FILE PHOTO: Brexit campaigner Jacob Rees-Mogg talks to the media outside the Houses of Parliament after David Davis resigns from government, in London, Britain, July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Simon Dawson/File Photo

Rees-Mogg, whose image as an old-fashioned, unashamedly “posh” Conservative has endeared him to many voters disillusioned with more modern-looking politicians, said he had met Bannon only once, in 2017.

“Meeting someone does not mean you’re endorsing them,” he told Reuters in an interview.

“He is a very well informed man,” Rees-Mogg said of Bannon, but added: “We just had a discussion on world affairs. His world view is not my world view.”

Rees-Mogg, chair of the European Research Group of anti-EU Members of Parliament, is a leading light of the staunchly anti-EU wing of Theresa May’s party that is urging the prime minister to drop her “soft Brexit” strategy which would maintain many of Britain’s close ties to the bloc.

He said he had had no contact with Bannon since the one meeting in 2017 and had no interest in supporting a Brussels-based, Europe-wide “Movement” that Bannon is putting together to elect right-wing nationalist and populist members in European Parliament elections next May.

In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Bannon praised Rees-Mogg as a “very important” British leader.

FILE PHOTO: Anti-Brexit demonstrators holds a spoof bank note featuring Brexit supporting Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg during a protest opposite the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Simon Dawson/File Photo

But he said that as it appeared certain that Britain is leaving the EU, he and his advisors, including British European Parliament member Nigel Farage, decided some time ago not to involve Britain in The Movement.

Bannon, who addressed a conference of France’s far-right National Front in March, said he planned to speak at an populist gathering this weekend in Rome where Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who recently endorsed Bannon’s Movement, will also speak.

Before returning to the United States to help support pro-Trump candidates in Congressional elections, Bannon said he hoped to check in with other European leaders who might be interested in joining his campaign. Such figures are likely to include Hungarian Prime Minster Viktor Orban, Bannon’s associates have said.

Rees-Mogg is one of three British Conservatives Bannon identified as political contacts in a recent Reuters interview here

A spokesman for Environment Secretary Michael Gove, also identified by Bannon as a member of a “deep talent bench” of potential anti-EU Conservatives, said Gove had met Bannon briefly only once and that two meetings to discuss U.S. politics had been explored but never took place.

During a visit to London in July, Bannon said he had spoken by phone and “texted a lot” with former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, seen as the most likely figure to challenge May’s leadership. Johnson has not responded to requests for comment on his contacts with Bannon.

Rees-Mogg said that he did not regard himself as aligned with anti-EU forces on continental Europe.

“What’s going on on the continent is very different” than what is happening in Britain, he said.

He said that despite calls from some anti-Brexit politicians for a second referendum on Britain leaving the European Union, “I think there would be real anger” if significant moves were made to reverse or stop Brexit.

Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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