LONDON (Reuters) - With a wry smile and a twitch of his wire-rimmed spectacles, Jacob Rees-Mogg made his debut as a member of the British government on Thursday, embodying a radical shift towards Brexiteers under Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Rees-Mogg, leader of the pro-Brexit faction in the ruling Conservative party that scuppered Theresa May’s premiership, was promoted to the high-profile job of Leader of the House of Commons by Johnson late on Wednesday evening.
Hours later, the rebel ringleader swapped the back bench seat in parliament he used to launch stinging criticism of Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May, for one at the front, strictly reserved for the government’s representatives.
Rees-Mogg’s appointment was one of the most eye-catching in a day of wholesale leadership change in the world’s fifth largest economy, as Johnson took power and geared his administration firmly towards leaving the European Union with or without a deal on Oct. 31.
The one-time favourite to become prime minister has never previously held a position in government, preferring instead to lobby for his purist vision of Brexit: no customs union, no single market, no EU role in making or applying British laws.
Sporting his trademark double-breasted suit and a neat side parting, Rees-Mogg, 50, who embraces his image as an English gentleman from a bygone era, spoke for an hour, accepting praise from his own party and jibes from opponents in equal measure.
His tenure in charge of organising the passage of government legislation through parliament - a key role as Johnson looks for a new Brexit deal that will win lawmakers’ approval - began with the mundane task of announcing upcoming business.
In a sign of difficulties to come, before he had finished his first sentence an opposition lawmaker shouted “Resign!”
Rees-Mogg, smiling, retorted “It’s a bit early.”
Reporting by William James; editing by Stephen Addison