Lord Mandelson infuriated Brexiteers by saying they are hating other countries and foreigners.
The Labour peer, who as Peter Mandelson was a key player in Tony Blair’s New Labour project, sneered that “Brextremists” were “nationalists” – not “patriots” like him who want the best for Britain.
The former Cabinet minister declined to name the people he was attacking.
But he did not dispute an interviewer’s suggestion they included leading Tory Brexiteers Rees-Mogg and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox.
His remarks in general were seen by many to refer to those leading the campaign for a clean break Brexit.
Mr Rees-Mogg, who heads the influential European Research Group of Conservative backbenchers, hit back, citing the peer’s reputation as the master of political spin doctoring.
He told the Daily Express: “The dismissiveness of Brexiteers by the metropolitan elite is condescending and inaccurate.
“Lord Mandelson epitomises this and when in office his approach to managing public opinion led to a corrosive distrust between elector and elected, and his failure to realise this shows a remarkable lack of self-knowledge.”
Fellow Brexit backer Priti Patel, the former International Development Secretary, told us: “It is shameful to suggest that the 17.4 million people who voted to re-establish the UK as a global trading nation which is open to the world hate other countries or nationalities.
“Lord Mandelson should respect democracy and the vote of the British public rather than exercising his poor judgment perpetuating divisive and hateful remarks, just because he lost the referendum.”
Lord Mandelson, a former Labour MP and one-time European Union trade commissioner, is backing demands for a second referendum, and he said controversy over Mrs May’s latest Brexit proposals proved the need for people to get a vote on any deal she makes with Brussels.
Mandelson told LBC radio that the ideology of people he calls Brextremists was nationalism
these pepole, these Brextremists, they’re not like that, they are nationalists in the sense that they hate other countries, and they hate foreigners
He told LBC radio that the “ideology” of people he calls “Brextremists” was “nationalism – which is not to be confused with patriotism.
“Patriotism is love of your country – wanting to stand up for your country, wanting to serve the best interests of your country.
“Nationalism, on the other hand, is hatred of foreigners, and that’s what they are. They’re nationalists and should not be confused with patriots.
“I feel I am patriotic. I want the best for Britain – it’s why incidentally I voted Remain in the referendum although I entirely respect the contrary view of very many others.
“But these pepole, these Brextremists, they’re not like that.
“They are nationalists in the sense that they hate other countries, and they hate foreigners.
“And that is, in my view, what motivates them and drives their behaviour.”
Former Brexit Minister Steve Baker said he was “deeply insulted” by the peer’s “ludicrous” comments.
Mr Baker added: “There is nothing illiberal about wanting democracy to have meaning. Quite the reverse.”
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Conservative MP Nigel Evans said: “Lord Mandelson’s incendiary description is an appalling attack.
“He and his distasteful views will not be missed.”
Earlier, Lord Mandelson, who is a director of the Open Britain group behind the People’s Vote campaign for another plebiscite, told Sky News a referendum on the final Brexit deal was Theresa May’s “only way forward.”
Responding to a Sky Data poll which suggested half of voters would support being asked to choose between leaving the EU with the Government’s deal, leaving the EU without a deal, or not leaving the EU at all, Lord Mandelson said: “The only way to give democratic legitimacy to the final deal, and to get approval from the public, is to put it to such a vote.
Mr Rees-Mogg hit back, citing the peer’s reputation as the master of political spin doctoring.
“If public opinion continues to shift, as the Sky poll has indicated now it is doing, everyone will have to get ready for a people’s vote on the final deal.”
He claimed promising a referendum on the deal would help the Prime Minister “strengthen her hand against the Brextremists in her own party”.
But Mrs May’s official spokesman insisted there would be no second referendum, in any circumstances.