Jeremy Hunt has a lot in common with Theresa May. As Andrew Neil pointed out in his interview with the foreign secretary tonight, both are Tory technocrats. And both backed May’s Brexit deal three times. So is Jeremy Hunt just ‘Theresa in trousers’? ‘Certainly not,’ according to Hunt, who said that while he was loyal to May it was now time for a new approach.
Part of that new approach involves Hunt switching to a no-deal Brexit strategy if no Brexit progress is made by the end of September. Here is how Hunt explained that approach in a tetchy interview:
“I will be talking to EU leaders in August and September, you don’t need an EU summit to talk to them”@AfNeil challenges Jeremy Hunt on shifting his focus to no-deal #Brexit planning before the new PM’s first EU Summit, due in Octoberhttps://t.co/MMt9zBbPiK #BBCOurNextPM pic.twitter.com/l6gJDX5hDC
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) July 12, 2019
AN: Back to Brexit. You say that if there’s no prospect of a deal by the 30th of September, you will – I quote your words: “Immediately cease all discussions with the EU. Focus the whole country’s mission on no deal preparations.” But why would you do that before your very first EU Summit which is not until October 17th? I mean this is just a posture for Brexit votes, isn’t it? It makes no sense.
JH: It does. Because –
AN: Before an EU Summit?
JH: Because we will talk to the EU. It’s entirely possible that if those talks are going well they would summon an extra summit in September. They want to resolve this quickly as well. And what I’m saying is that it’s very straightforward. The thing – to go back to your very first question – the main thing that I would do differently to Theresa May is I would not be proposing anything to Brussels that we can’t get through Parliament. And so my negotiating team would have the DUP, the ERG, the Brexit purists in our party, Scottish and Welsh Conservatives, because we must think about the Union as well. We’ll put that deal together in August, discussing it with the Irish governments –
AN: If you’re lucky.
JH: Well, you know we will put that deal together and it will be a deal that can get through Parliament because it will be a deal that works for those groups of people. Then in September we will have proper formal discussions with the EU and I think we’ll know pretty quickly if there’s a deal to be done. But if there isn’t we’re not going to hang around –
AN: So you would walk away before your first summit?
JH: No, it’s not walking away. I’m just saying to them –
AN: Well, it is. You could decide there’s no point and you’d not even had a summit with the EU. I thought you said you’d learned a lot about negotiation?
JH: Yes, and we will be talking to EU leaders, I’ll be talking to them in August and September. You don’t need an EU summit to talk to EU leaders, so we’ll have those discussions.
AN: I know you want people to take you seriously on leaving with no deal, particularly the kind of Tory electorate you have to appeal to, but only –
JH: As they should.
AN: Only in February you said failing to secure a ratified Withdrawal Agreement would be deeply damaging politically as well as economically. And you are now prepared to take us down a deeply damaging route.
JH: I have never hidden from the risks of no deal. But we are a democracy, as I said to you, and I’ve always said, and this is something I’ve said ever since we made that referendum decision, if the only way to leave the EU was without a deal we should do that and we could make a success of it. But the way that we’ll make a success of it is being honest about the risks to business, about the risks to our Union. Just think what Nicola Sturgeon would do –
Hmmm. Mr S isn’t convinced…