Tories at war: Jacob Rees-Mogg calls Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross a ‘lightweight figure’

Jacob Rees-Mogg called Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross a “lightweight figure”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said Jacob Rees-Mogg was entitled to his opinion as he responded to being described as a “lightweight figure” by him.

Rees-Mogg who is Leader of the House of Commons and Conservative MP for North East Somerset made the controversial comment during an appearance on the BBC’s Newsnight programme.

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Mr Ross had called for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to quit after he admitted attending a gathering in the Downing Street garden during lockdown in May 2020.

Leader of the Scottish Conservatives Douglas Ross (left) and Jacob Rees-Mogg (right)

What did Jacob Rees-Mogg say?

Rees-Mogg had been asked about Scottish Tory MSPs taking a view that Boris Johnson should resign.

In response Rees-Mogg said: “I would actually say that the Secretary of State for Scotland (Alister Jack), who is a big figure is very supportive of the Prime Minister, he has made that absolutely clear. Douglas Ross has always been quite a lightweight figure so I don’t think that he..”

At this point a surprised Kirsty Wark responded with “ooofft” and challenged Rees-Mogg about his comments to which he said: “I think the Scottish Secretary is a much more substantial and important figure in this.”

When asked about the comments during business questions in the House of Commons on Thursday Rees-Mogg, who has faced criticism and calls to apologise, said: “Now, the honourable gentleman (Douglas Ross), my honourable friend, has office within the Conservative Party and it seems to me that people who hold office ought to support the leader of the party.

“That is the honourable and proper thing to do. But the United Kingdom is something that we can celebrate and debate in this chamber on a daily basis.

“It is the foundation, the cornerstone of the success of the nation as a whole and we are very fortunate to have the United Kingdom that we have.

“We are particularly fortunate to have the Scottish Secretary that we have, who is such a formidable figure in Scottish politics and offers the strongest, the firmest and the clearest leadership.”

What has Douglas Ross said in response?

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, who is the MP for Moray and MSP for Highlands and Islands, responded on Thursday to accusations by Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg that he is a “lightweight”.

Speaking before entering Holyrood’s debating chamber for FMQs, Mr Ross said: “Jacob Rees-Mogg, as anyone, is entitled to their opinions. I don’t have to agree with them.”

He added: “My message is I’m going to hold the First Minister to account and ensure that Scottish Conservatives continue to provide a real alternative here in Scotland.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross

What have politics experts said?

Politics expert Professor Sir John Curtice said those comments “are going to get repeated endlessly north of the border” by the Tories’ opponents.

He warned: “Given the difficulties the Conservatives are now in, they are at risk of beginning to implode themselves as a result of the internal fighting within the party.”

Sir John, speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, said the upcoming council elections north of the border could help explain why Tories in Scotland are speaking out against Mr Johnson – with the overwhelming majority of MSPs having publicly backed Mr Ross and his calls for the PM to quit.

The Strathclyde University elections expert said Scottish Conservative Party “knows it is on a sticky wicket” with the local elections in May.

While he said the Tories will “not want to be fighting those elections against a backdrop of a party that has lost its popularity”, he added: “That at the moment is the prospect that faces it.

“Which perhaps helps to explain why Tory MSPs have been the first out of the hatch to say that the Prime Minister should go.”

What have other political figures said?

A spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives insisted the party has “nothing to say about Mr Rees-Mogg”, but former MSP Adam Tomkins insisted he was “wrong” to brand Mr Ross a “lightweight” – describing it as “very rude and dismissive”.

Professor Tomkins added there is now some “serious thinking” that needs to be done in Scotland about the links between the party on either side of the border.

Prof Tomkins told Good Morning Scotland: “There’s a ‘Save Boris’ operation going on at the moment, which you would expect Jacob Rees-Mogg to be… at the head of. That explains why Jacob Rees-Mogg was very rude and dismissive about Douglas yesterday.

“Jacob’s got this wrong – I don’t agree with anything that Jacob said about this matter.

“Douglas is a man of principle and a man of steel, and he will lead the Scottish Conservatives in the direction he thinks he needs to lead them in order to secure that credible fighting voice for centre-right ideas in Scottish politics.”

Under questioning in the Commons on Thursday, Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay described Mr Ross as a “hugely talented colleague”, adding: “I work extremely closely with him and I look forward to doing so”.

Prof Tomkins, who quit Holyrood last year but remains a major figure in the Scottish Conservatives, hinted at a growing schism between the Tory party at Holyrood and Westminster and a possible shift in their relationship.

“I think there will always be ties but I think that Douglas and his team need to do some deep and serious thinking about exactly what the nature of those ties should be,” he said.”

The SNP seized on the comments on Wednesday, claiming they show “disdain for Scotland”.

Kirsten Oswald, the party’s deputy leader at Westminster, said: “Not only is it deeply humiliating for Douglas Ross but it is a telling insight into the arrogant and dismissive attitude that the Tory Government has towards Scotland as a whole.

“They are looking down their noses at us and making it clear just how little Scotland’s views matter to them – just like they did over Brexit and Tory austerity cuts.”

She added: “As the UK Government descends into another bitter Tory civil war, it’s clearer than ever that Scotland needs to become an independent country, so we can determine our own future and escape the sleazy, corrupt and broken Westminster system for good.”

Boris Johnson has faced calls for his resignation from a number of high-profile people in the Conservative party (Picture: PA)

What has been said about Boris Johnson?

Downing Street insisted Chancellor Rishi Sunak and the whole Cabinet still had confidence in the Prime Minister.

Mr Sunak was away on a trip to Devon while the Prime Minister was facing a barrage of criticism in the Commons after his apology for the No 10 drinks party.

Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned that Mr Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss took almost 10 hours to offer their support on Twitter, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “What the Prime Minister wants and expects is the Cabinet to be focused on delivering on the public’s priorities.”

Asked if he believed he had the full support of his Cabinet, the spokesman said: “Yes, and you can see they continue to deliver on the public’s priorities.”

Tory MP Philip Dunne described the controversy surrounding Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s attendance at a Downing Street party during the first national lockdown as “a very unsettling and unedifying period” for the party.

He told Times Radio: “I think the Prime Minister was quite right to apologise yesterday, and I think it is right that we wait to see what the investigation from Sue Gray establishes.”

“People will then have to suffer the consequences of whatever happens.”

He added: “It’s a very unsettling and unedifying period. These are serious allegations at a very serious time for the country and it is not comfortable.”

Conservative MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, Andrew Bowie, said: “The Prime Minister was right to apologise to Parliament and the public. I do not believe the apology was enough, however I think it’s important to wait and see what the report says, at which point we will have the full facts of the incident.”

Meanwhile, David Duguid, Conservative MP for Banff and Buchan, said: “I fully understand the anger many people feel about the events in Downing Street, at a time when the whole country was under severe restrictions due to the pandemic.

“We’ve all had to make sacrifices to protect ourselves from this virus.

“A comprehensive investigation into what happened is under way and I believe Sue Gray should be allowed to complete her inquiry so the full facts can be established.”

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