Jacob Rees-Mogg has faced a huge backlash after admitting that he is “completely opposed” to abortion, even in the case of rape.
The backbench MP, who has recently hit the headlines over rumours he could be offered a ministerial position or even run for leadership of the party, was speaking on Good Morning Britain when he was questioned about his views on abortion.
The Tory MP for North Somerset, who is a practising Catholic, was challenged over whether he opposed abortion in all circumstances, to which he responded: “I’m afraid I am. Life is sacrosanct and begins at the point of conception.”
He was pressed by Piers Morgan: “Say you were prime minister: If a woman is raped by a family member, you would say she had no right to have that baby aborted?”
Rees-Mogg responded: “She would have a right under UK law. That law is not going to change but my personal opinion is life begins at the point of conception.”
He was also challenged over his views on gay marriage, which he voted against in the Commons.
Rees-Mogg responded: “I’m a Catholic and I take the teaching of the Catholic Church seriously.”
Susanna Reid countered: “Well there are plenty of Catholics who support same sex marriage.”
Morgan and Reid went further, asking Rees-Mogg the same question which was considered by many to have torpedoed Tim Farron’s career as Liberal Democrat leader: “Religion plays a big part in your policies. Do you think that gay sex is a sin?”
He responded: “On the issue of sin, it is quite clearly not for me to judge. I very strongly feel I should not judge what other people do. If you look at the woman taking adultery? What does Christ say? Is not for me to pass judgement.”
Rees-Mogg’s comments caused an instant backlash, throwing into question any leadership ambitions he may have had.
Asked about Rees-Mogg’s comments following Prime Minister’s Questions, a Downing Street spokesman said Theresa May did not agree with his views.
He added that it was a “long-standing principle” in Parliament that abortion was a “matter of conscience” for “individual MPs”.
A spokesperson from Marie Stopes International said: “Mr Rees-Mogg is entitled to his opinion. It does nothing to change the fact that women in the UK have benefited from access to safe and legal abortion for 50 years, and will continue to do so.
“Restricting access to abortion only makes it more likely that women will risk their health and their lives through dangerous backstreet procedures. Our teams around the world deal with the terrible impact of this every day. No one should be seeking to replicate this situation in the UK.”
In a blog on HuffPost UK, the head of media and policy research at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas) Katherine O’Brien, said: “At bpas, we believe that every politician is entitled to hold their own opinion on abortion. However, we will always stand firm against MPs allowing their own personal convictions to stand in the way of women’s ability to act on their own.
“And we must be clear: the views Rees-Mogg expressed this morning are not ‘traditional’ or ‘eccentric’ - they are extreme. And neither the British public nor our parliament will support them.”
Johnny Mercer, Tory MP for Plymouth, told HuffPost UK: “I am very fond of Jacob, but I do not agree with his views on gay marriage and abortion.
“I am one of those who believe introducing gay marriage was one of the defining achievements of the modern, compassionate Conservative party under David Cameron.
“Freedom and equality are binding principles in my political philosophy, and this cuts all ways, both in equal marriage, abortion and Jacob’s right to express his views.”
Rees-Mogg’s comments come after he refused to rule out one day running to become leader of the Conservative Party.
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On Tuesday, a Conservative Home survey of the party grassroots revealed Rees-Mogg was the firm favourite to succeed Thersea May as Tory leader.
Asked if he would “categorically rule out” ever putting himself forward for the job, Rees-Mogg quoted from Jim Hacker, the central character in Yes Minister who wanted to, and eventually became, prime minister.
“I remember Jim Hacker’s answer from Yes Minister,” Rees-Mogg said. ‘I have no ambitions in that direction but if my friends and colleagues advise me that in some humble capacity I could serve my country’, that of course that meant ‘yes’.”
But while Rees-Mogg did not rule out running to be party leader, he said it was unlikely to happen.
“Let me be absolutely clear. I am not a candidate, there is not a vacancy. I fully support Theresa May and want her to continue,” he said
“The answer to your questions is it’s simply not something that is going to happen.”