Ken Clarke: 'Silly' to suggest Jacob Rees-Mogg can be prime minister
Tory grandee Ken Clarke has said it is "silly" to suggest Jacob Rees-Mogg could become prime minister.
The North-East Somerset MP emerged as an unlikely contender to succeed Theresa May over the summer.
Although he has never held ministerial office, Mr Rees-Mogg came top in a recent ConservativeHome 'next leader' survey of Tory members - a result seen in some quarters as a sign of unhappiness with the other options on offer.
However, he has also sparked controversy with his views on equal marriage and abortion, which he believes should never be sanctioned, even in cases where a woman has been raped.
Former Cabinet minister Mr Clarke said reports about who might replace Mrs May were wide of the mark and she would be in place for "two or three years".
He argued that talk of Mr Rees-Mogg becoming leader was a distraction from the tough decisions entailed by the Brexit process.
"The eurosceptic campaigners offered simplicity. This dangerous, changing world, all these foreigners living here now, all Brussels' fault. leave the EU, one bound we're free and a brave new world will emerge," he told Sky News.
"Well, that is nonsense and it's no good diverting ourselves by saying would Jacob Rees-Mogg be a 21st century PM, which I suspect Jacob thinks is rather a silly question, certainly at this stage of his career.
"We've got many years of complicated negotiations in front of us, our economy's in a very worrying state. I mean, we have slowed down very badly and the outlook is very uncertain.
"We need as soon as possible an assurance that economically, in trade terms, our arrangements with Europe are going to carry on for some years as they are now, so that this can all be sorted out sensibly."
And he poured cold water on the idea of Mrs May being replaced in the near future, saying:
"It's what our children and our grandchildren we should be thinking about, not next week's newspaper headlines and can we have fun with a kind of Strictly Come Dancing-type contest between people who want to be prime minister.
"Theresa May is there, there's no prospect of her being replaced by anybody sensible in any sensible process. For the next two or three years, Theresa's got the job of presiding over a smooth transition through a long transition period to an arrangement that at least will minimise the damage in a few years' time."