When Annunziata Rees-Mogg stood up to deliver her maiden speech as a Brexit Party MEP on Thursday – accusing the EU of “betraying democracy" – it was rightly praised as “brilliant” by her brother Jacob.
But what those watching the scenes unfold in the European Parliament building in Strasbourg didn’t know is that throughout the former Tory activist’s 60-second oration, she was being distracted by the 16-week-old baby kicking inside her stomach.
Unexpectedly pregnant at the age of 40, the mother-of-two is all the more delighted to share the happy news, telling me that “sadly, in February I miscarried at eight weeks, which turned out to be triplets.”
This new pregnancy, then, “was not expected but very, very welcome,” she says. “My husband and I are just delighted that I’ve made it safely this far and look forward to having another sibling for our two daughters.”
Although ordinarily reluctant to talk about such deeply personal matters, Annunziata has decided to open up after what she describes as “a rough 18 months for our family.” Not only that tragedy in February, but also the premature birth of her second child, Molly, who was born at 25 weeks in March 2018, weighing just 1lb 11oz.
Molly’s birth “was a very, very worrying time for me and my husband,” she says, “there were various concerns and she was in hospital for a while, but she is now home, wonderful and thriving. And we’ve so far been very lucky with incredible care, particularly from the nurses at the hospital. The NHS could not have been better in those circumstances.”
Annunziata found out she was pregnant again in January but went straight to the doctor when she started spotting, given her experience with Molly.
“I went for a scan and they went: ‘Oh, it’s twins. They’ve got heartbeats, but we think you better some back for another scan next week.’ So I did, which is when they went: ‘Oh, it’s triplets. And clearly one of them isn’t growing.’ And by the next week, unfortunately none of them were thriving.”
Annunziata, who turned 40 in March, a month after she lost the babies, has since learned that as you get older, multiple pregnancies are more likely.
“All of those kind of anomalies are more common as women’s bodies are ageing and obviously that pregnancy wasn’t a sustainable one. I think God works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform. The idea of, at 40, suddenly not just doubling our family but going up to five kids, four of whom would have been in nappies at the same time… really, I hadn’t got my head around that. But you wonder – at the time, I was 39 – whether that is your last chance. So after that, this was a blessing.”
Having enjoyed a normal, full-term pregnancy with her eldest daughter Isadora, now eight, Annunziata had expected a similar experience when she fell pregnant with Molly in September 2017. But then she started having stomach cramps three and-a-half months before her due date. She and the baby both tested positive for strep B, “it had got into the amniotic sack and caused chorioamnionitis, which triggered premature labour.”
Having travelled down to London because of heavy snow in the Lincolnshire village where she lives with her husband, management consultant, Matthew Glanville, Annunziata was taken to the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, where the baby was born so gravely ill that she was taken away before they could even find out her sex. The couple were told that chances of survival – and survival without severe brain damage – were very small.
“She was straight into an incubator,” she says. “I had to rent a hospital-grade breast pump, which I used six times a day for the next three months. She couldn’t feed naturally. So that was the only mothering I could really do, until we were allowed to get her out and actually hold her.”
Holding little Molly – even after waiting weeks – was “terrifying”.
“They are so small, they are so fragile. I remember she could only really fit in my clavicle. They’re not the beautiful Pampers babies and there are tubes and wires and ventilators and sensors that you certainly don’t want to disturb. So even when you can finally hold them, that’s all still attached and it’s quite a scary process. Your first cuddle is not relaxed.”
But Molly had a “fighting spirit from the very get-go,” says Annunziata – “she’s quite a handful now,” she jokes – and managed to reach five pounds over the course of next few difficult months. “All the nurses from very early on would complain at quite how wriggly she was and how good at getting wires off herself she was and pulling tubes out. She was a fighter.”
Taking her home was “both wonderful and terrifying. For the first time you have got full responsibility of this very, very small creature and you haven’t got all of the hospital equipment that goes beep and keeps track of their oxygen levels, their heartbeat and all those vital statistics. You’ve got so used to the rhythm bleeping that you wonder how you’re going to know if they’re OK.”
Eighteen months on, after a couple of minor operations, Molly is “thriving”, although she will continue to have check-ups until she is two. She doesn’t quite understand a sibling is on the way, but Isadora cannot wait to be a big sister again next March.
In the meantime, Annunziata still has the weekly schlep to Strasbourg to contend with – until Brexit is delivered. Many may question what on earth possessed her to join the Brexit Party in April after everything she had through. “It seemed like something I just had to do as I watched our democracy disintegrate,” she says. “I couldn’t sit by and let that happen without trying to do something to protect it.”
Not that the European election campaign was plain sailing. Midway through canvassing with Nigel Farage in May, she was diagnosed with an overactive thyroid, also known as hyperthyroidism, after losing a stone in weight, and suffering with such bad tinnitus that “every night was like going to bed in a nightclub.”
Now on medication with the condition under control, she can see the funny side: “Hyperthyroidism is when your entire metabolism is just going too fast. So actually I had lots of energy and was firing on rather too many cylinders.”
The Brexit Party went on to win 29 seats – including Annunziata’s East Midlands constituency – becoming the largest single national party in the European Parliament. Witnessing the EU up close has proved quite an eye-opener, from the sight of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi surrounded by “tall, leggy ladies” to what Annunziata describes as “a Clingfilm façade of democracy on a bureaucracy.” Clearly not a fan of federalisation, she adds: “Every system is set up, not to enable the free flow of democratic countries’ interests and rights, but to enable the bureaucracy to thrive.”
Having campaigned for the Conservatives since her big brother Jacob, who is 10 years her senior, urged her to join the party as a child, Annunziata is determined to campaign for a “clean” Brexit – even if Boris Johnson delivers a deal on 31 October.
“Brino [Brexit in Name Only] is not Brexit and the withdrawal agreement without the backstop is not Brexit,” she insists. “It is staying under the control of various aspects of the EU. It is signing up to future responsibilities without having a voice in those. And it would be a complete betrayal of the British people.”
She doesn’t hold back on the Tories, despite Jacob’s promotion to Leader of the House of Commons, which sees him attend cabinet. “We’re not going to support a party that wants to mislead the British public into supporting something that isn’t what they’ve asked for.”
Thankfully, there appears to be no acrimony between the siblings, with Annunziata joking that she gratefully receives hand-me-downs from her brother and his wife Helena, who have five sons and a daughter.
She won’t find out the sex of this baby: “I’ve been thinking a girl would be easier on the grounds I wouldn’t have to buy anything at all," she says, "but in fact, Jacob’s lot do have plenty of blue stuff.”