WATCH Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg insists he's no 'menace' to Theresa May
Leading Eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg has denied being a "menace" to Theresa May - insisting the Prime Minister is "crucial" to making Brexit happen.
The Conservative backbencher and chair of the powerful European Research Group of Brexiteer MPs has previously torn into Mrs May's handling of Brexit, warning just days ago that she was "preparing for failure" and questioning her commitment to EU exit.
But in a marked shift, the backbench heavyweight told the Andrew Marr Show that he was "very respectful of the great office that Theresa May holds" and heaped fulsome praise on the Prime Minister.
"I think the Prime Minister is the most impressive and dutiful leader that this country has had," he said.
"Her expression of duty is something that all Conservatives should admire and applaud. I compared her recently to Geoffrey Boycott who was my childhood cricketing hero. And I think that is her approach - it is a straight bat, a steady approach and she scores the run."
Laughing off suggestions he posed a threat to the Prime Minister, Mr Rees-Mogg said: "There's no menace in me at all. I'm a big softie."
The Tory MP, who is the bookies' favourite to become the next leader of the Conservative party, said his "sole ambition" was to achieve Brexit, adding: "I don't wish to be Prime Minister. I'm very happy to be a backbench member of parliament."
Asked whether his message to fellow backbenchers was that removing Theresa May would put the UK's exit from the EU in jeopardy, Mr Rees-Mogg said: "I think Mrs May is crucial to the Brexit project, yes."
The warm words for the Prime Minister come amid a furious row in the Conservative Party over plans to prolong the UK's customs ties with Brussels in a bid to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.
The so-called "backstop" option - which has already been given a frosty reception by the EU - would potentially see elements of the Customs Union preserved beyond the Brexit transition period, which is currently slated to end in December 2020.
Mr Rees-Mogg repeated his assertion that such a move, which could see the UK continue to collect tariffs on behalf of the EU, would leave Britain as a "rule taker" and a "vassal state for an indeterminate period".