Jeremy Hunt accuses EU leaders of ‘insulting’ Theresa May after Salzburg standoff

Posted On: 
22nd September 2018

Jeremy Hunt has accused European leaders of “insulting” Theresa May after they heaped scorn on her Chequers Brexit proposals.

The Foreign Secretary insisted the UK could "survive" a no-deal Brexit

The Foreign Secretary urged the EU side to show “politeness and decency” after the Prime Minister failed to win backing for her proposals for leaving the bloc at a gathering of European leaders in Salzburg.

A defiant Mrs May yesterday accused EU leaders of failing to show her "respect" and urged them to do more to break the Brexit deadlock, which focuses on plans to avoid a hard border in northern Ireland and minimise disruption to trade after the UK leaves.

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Mr Hunt told the BBC's Today programme that it was “too early to say” whether negotiations with the EU would collapse following the Salzburg impasse.

But he threw his support behind Mrs May for “patiently and seriously” working to avoid leaving the bloc without a deal and accused EU leaders of mocking the British PM.

“If we’re going to avoid that [a no-deal], because it’s not the outcome that we want and we are confident that we can avoid that, then we need to make sure that we get the tone right,” he said.

“And what Theresa May is saying is don’t mistake British politeness for weakness.

“You put us in a difficult corner we will stand our ground. That’s the kind of country we are.

“But that means we need to get the tone right - and insulting her, insulting the British people on social media - getting into these standoffs where you’re calling people liars and so on, is not the way we’re going to get a solution to this situation.”

Mr Hunt also tore into an Instragram post by European Council President Donald Tusk which has been widely seen as a dig at Mrs May.

The image of Mrs May and Mr Tusk was captioned "A piece of cake, perhaps? Sorry, no cherries” - an apparent jibe at British attempts to “cherry-pick” favourable elements of EU membership.

Pressed on the post, the Foreign Secretary said: “If we are going to work seriously towards a solution then we need to avoid revving up the situation, making it worse by appealing to audiences on social media and seriously and diligently working to a solution. And that’s what Theresa May wants to do - she has taken some big risks.”

Mr Hunt meanwhile talked up the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, insisting that while leaving the bloc without an agreement would be “bumpy” and “difficult”, the UK would “find a way to survive and prosper as a country”.

He added: “We’ve had far bigger challenges in our history. But it’s not our desired outcome. And that’s why we want these negotiations to work. And that’s why we’re ask everyone in the spirit of politeness and decency all round to engage seriously so we can avoid that outcome.”

The intervention from the Foreign Secretary came as Mr Tusk sought to ease tensions with the UK, calling Mrs May a “close friend” and claiming a deal could still be done.

Once again describing her proposals as a "step in the right direction", the EU Council chief - who represents European leaders - said: "While understanding the logic of the negotiations, I remain convinced that a compromise, good for all, is still possible.”

He added: "I say these words as a close friend of the UK and a true admirer of PM May."

Meanwhile, Mrs May could come under fresh domestic pressure to change course next week at a crunch meeting of her Cabinet.

According to the Telegraph, Cabinet ministers Esther McVey and Penny Mordaunt are considering a walkout if the Prime Minister does not present a ‘Plan B’ alternative to Chequers -  which includes plans for a free-trade area for goods governed by a common rulebook with the EU - when ministers meet on Monday. 

A source told the paper: “Monday is the crunch point. That’s when every Cabinet minister will have to look again and reassess like Boris [Johnson] and David Davis did.”