Jeremy Hunt warns 'social consequences' of second Brexit referendum would be 'devastating'
A second referendum on Brexit would have "devastating" consequences for voters' trust in democracy, the Foreign Secretary has warned.
Speaking on a trip to Singapore, Jeremy Hunt said asking the public to cast their verdict on leaving the European Union again would be "incredibly damaging", as he also spoke out against quitting the bloc without a deal.
But campaigners for a fresh vote pointed out that the top Cabinet minister had called for a public vote on the Brexit deal when Britain first voted to leave the EU in 2016.
He told reporters: "We have to remember that a no-deal Brexit would cause disruption that could last some time.
"But even if you are someone who believes that Britain will flourish and prosper whatever that disruption might be, that is not something that any government should willingly wish on its people.
"But a second referendum would be also incredibly damaging in a different way because we are a democracy. We have been given our instructions by the British people.
"They've asked us to leave the European Union and they're expecting us to get on with that."
Mr Hunt - who is on a trip to the Pacific to talk up post-Brexit ties between Britain and the region - said voters would accuse politicians of failing to listen to them if a second referendum took place.
"If we went back to them and asked their opinion a second time they would say, 'Well, you guys aren't listening to us. And are you going to ask us a third time or a fourth time until you get the answer you want?'
"And if that's the case, then that's not a democracy at all. So the social consequences in one of the oldest democracies in the world of not going ahead and leaving the EU on the 29th March as we've been instructed to do would be devastating."
However, those pushing for a new referendum quickly accused the Foreign Secretary of flaunting his Brexiteer credentials for a future Tory leadership contest.
And they highlighted the fact he had called for voters to be given a say on the final Brexit deal in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 vote.
Labour MP Virendra Sharma of the Best for Britain campaign told PoliticsHome: "Jeremy Hunt might wish to remind himself that Jeremy Hunt was one of the first people to call for a vote on the Brexit deal, just days after the referendum as he was positioning himself to stand as Conservative party leader.
"Whilst he seems to have decided it’s no longer advantageous for his personal leadership prospects to back a people’s vote, the arguments for putting this decision back in the hands of the people have grown and grown over the past two-and-a-half years, as the consequences of the political uncertainty come home to roost and our parliament remains in deadlock.
He added: "It’s time 2019 Jeremy listened to 2016 Jeremy and gave the people the final say on Brexit."
Writing in the Telegraph in 2016, Mr Hunt had said ministers should "negotiate a deal and put it to the British people, either in a referendum or through the Conservative manifesto at a fresh general election".
And the then-health secretary added: "The knowledge that once again we will trust the British people to decide on whether or not it is a good deal will concentrate minds across the Channel: if they want to conclude this amicably and quickly, which is in their interests as much as ours, they need to put a 'Norway plus' deal on the table."
Labour MP Luciana Berger - who is backing the People's Vote campaign for a second referendum - said of the Cabinet minister's latest intervention: "Jeremy Hunt is wrong. The answer to what happened in 2016 cannot be an establishment stitch-up in which the UK ends up losing control over decisions while also being poorer.
"Now we know what Brexit looks like, it’s clear that nobody voted for this deal. And democratic consent is a process not a one-off event – we don’t have to put up with a bad deal which is a million miles from what was once promised."
'SHARE OUR VALUES'
The Foreign Secretary's comments on a second referendum came as he called for Britain to act as "invisible chain" between democracies around the world once it leaves the EU.
Addressing the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank in Singapore, he said the UK's diplomatic network meant it would have a vital global role to play after Brexit.
"Britain is already the biggest European investor in South East Asia, with ASEAN trade of nearly £37 billion, and over 4,000 British companies employing more than 50,000 people in Singapore alone," Mr Hunt.
"Those connections are why Britain’s post-Brexit role should be to act as an invisible chain linking together the democracies of the world, those countries which share our values and support our belief in free trade, the rule of law and open societies."