Jacob Rees-Mogg has been accused of misleading parliament with a smear against a HuffPost UK reporter.
Deputy political editor Arj Singh on Tuesday published a leaked extract from a video call in which Dominic Raab told foreign office staff that the UK was keen to trade with countries that had poor human rights records.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) did not deny Raab had used the words, or suggest they had been doctored. HuffPost UK did not edit the recording that had been passed to us, and our article quoted it in full.
But Rees-Mogg, who is the leader of the House of Commons, on Thursday falsely accused Singh of “editing” the tape using a journalistic “cheat”.
And he said Raab’s words had been “shockingly distorted by low quality journalism”.
“It is a cheat that journalists sometimes use of editing text, editing a recording, and it was done to Roger Scruton by the New Statesman and it’s now been done to the foreign secretary,” he claimed.
Scruton, a philosopher and author, won an apology from the New Statesman after the magazine’s deputy editor tweeted “partial” and “truncated” quotations from an interview.
Rees-Mogg also accused Singh of exemplifying “that type of poor-quality, online journalism”, adding: “It’s not the sort of thing that would happen in The Times.” Singh’s exclusive was, in fact, subsequently picked up by The Times and the Financial Times.
Shadow Commons leader Valerie Vaz hit back at Rees-Mogg, saying: “He may have inadvertently misled the House when he used words like ‘cheat’ and ‘edit’ the recording, about something I raised in relation to the foreign secretary.
“I’ve had this from the journalist in question and the HuffPost: ‘We did not edit any recording passed to us and quoted it in full.’ If the leader is not prepared to repeat it outside, then he must withdraw it and apologise now, otherwise he’s casting aspersions on the integrity of a journalist.”
But Rees-Mogg doubled down.
“If the journalist didn’t clip it himself,” he said, “he ought to have known it was clipped. He is either a knave or a fool.”
He cited the FCDO’s statement that the foreign secretary’s words had been “selectively clipped” from the full video call with staff, though the FCDO has never suggested the words themselves were edited, or that Singh or the publication had clipped anything.
It is the second time in recent weeks that a senior Conservative MP has smeared a HuffPost UK journalist.
Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch tweeted last month that reporter Nadine White had been “sow[ing] distrust” when she privately asked Badenoch’s office why the minister had not appeared in a video about the Covid vaccine. Badenoch screenshotted White’s email, calling her behaviour “creepy and bizarre”.
Rees-Mogg’s words demonstrate a remarkable shift in tone from a speech he gave in 2018, when he told directly criticised politicians for smearing reporters’ work as “fake news”.
Talking to students at the Press Association, he said: “They [politicians] shouldn’t say that it’s all made up by the press because it’s very, very rarely made up by the press.
“They have usually been told by somebody, that person may have got it wrong, but you read the newspapers and I’ve got to know how the lobby works in the last few years – the lobby [political journalists] in the House of Commons is fantastically well informed. They know what’s going on, and they print what they have been told reliably and they check it.”
Singh said: “Jacob Rees-Mogg has misled parliament by accusing HuffPost UK of using a ‘cheat’ to ‘edit’ the recording” – this is not true. We did not edit any recording passed to us and quoted it in full.”
HuffPost UK editor Jess Brammar added: “To use parliamentary privilege to smear a journalist – knowing you can’t be sued for defamation because you are saying it in parliament – is extremely troubling.
“We stand by Arj and his journalism. Produce your evidence, Jacob Rees-Mogg, or retract and set the record straight.”
In the recording passed to HuffPost UK, Raab told FCDO staff: “I squarely believe we ought to be trading liberally around the world.
“If we restrict it to countries with ECHR-level standards of human rights, we’re not going to do many trade deals with the growth markets of the future.”
HuffPost UK understands the foreign secretary also used the meeting to name countries where the UK had raised human rights issues with key trade partners.
It is understood that Raab also said: “We don’t junk whole relationships because we’ve got issues – we have a conversation because we want to change the behaviour.
“And I think we’re in a much better position to do that if we’re willing to engage. […]
“I can think of behaviour that would cross the line and render a country beyond the pale.
“But fundamentally I’m a big believer in engaging to try and exert positive influence even if it’s only a moderating influence, and I hope that calibrated approach gives you a sense that it’s not just words – we back it up with action.”