WATCH: Jeremy Hunt refuses to commit to Brexit by end of 2019 as he blasts 'at-any-cost' Boris Johnson

Posted On: 
16th June 2019

Jeremy Hunt has refused to commit to leaving the European Union by the end of the year if he becomes prime minister - as he accused Tory leadership rival Boris Johnson of an "at-any-cost" approach to Brexit.

Mr Hunt (right) sought to contrast himself with the "hard-stop, at-any-cost" Brexit plan offered by Mr Johnson (left).
Credit: 
PA

The Foreign Secretary - who came second to Mr Johnson in the first Conservative ballot of MPs - said he would not commit to a "31 October hard-stop-at-any-cost" Brexit if he wins the race to succeed Theresa May.

But he refused to put a timeframe on any further Brexit delay, saying no candidate could "sensibly answer" the question of how long might be needed to secure changes to the deal struck with the EU.

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Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr show, Mr Hunt said that while it was "not impossible" to leave the EU before 31 October, it would be "difficult" to hit that deadline.

He said: "I'm not committing to a 31 October hard-stop, at-any-cost because I don't think you can make that guarantee.

"And if you do make that guarantee and if you go with the wrong approach... then you are committing us to nothing other than a hard Brexit, a no-deal Brexit."

 

 

The Foreign Secretary was asked whether he could definitively commit to Britain being out of the EU by the end of 2019.

He said:  "Look - a wise Prime Minister makes choices on the basis of the choices that are actually in front of them.

"Now, by the time we actually get to 31 October we may have Parliament having changed the law, in particular ways. We may have a new European Commission. We may have made very good progress in the negotiations...

"I've been very clear... If there is no prospect of getting a deal that can get through Parliament on 31st October then I will be prepared to leave without a deal.

"Because in the end the risk of no Brexit, the democratic risk is far worse than the risk of no-deal... But if there is a prospect of a deal then - how can anyone sensibly answer that question when you don't know the context? And I'm not going to sit here and make promises."

And he added: "You can't answer that question until you know the choices you face.

"You're asking me to predict what the world will look like on 31 October. And you must know... that that is a ridiculous thing to ask a prime minister or somebody who wants to be prime minister to decide when you don't know what choices there are."

However, Mr Hunt said it would be "completely unacceptable" for Britain to still be in the EU in time for the next general election, which is currently scheduled for 2022.

And in a dig at his rival Mr Johnson, who has pledged to leave the EU with or without a deal on 31 October, the Foreign Secretary vowed that he would not "create a set of circumstances that makes it all-but impossible to get a deal".

'CONTINUITY NOT THE SAME AS LOYALTY'

Mr Hunt also denied that his own approach to Brexit - aiming to once again push the European Union for changes to the backstop plan to avoid a hard between Ireland and Northern Ireland - represented a repeat of Theresa May's doomed attempts to pass an EU deal.

"Continuity is not the same as loyalty," he said.

"I am proud to have been loyal to two Prime Ministers... And with my background as a negotiator I have profound issues with Theresa May's approach, which I argued privately in Cabinet.

"I did not think that we should be trying to persuade Parliament to accept the backstop. But of course she made that decision and I supported that loyalty. This is a different approach.

"This is saying we have to change the backstop and we have to leave the European Union if we possibly can in an orderly way. And I believe that I'm the person who can do that."

The intervention came before the first televised head-to-head debate between every Tory leadership candidate except Boris Johnson, who is ducking the Sunday night Channel 4 showdown.

Mr Hunt scooped up the support of 43 MPs in Tory ballot to choose a new leader, while Mr Johnson led the pack with 114 votes.

A second ballot will take place on Tuesday, with hopefuls needing the support of 33 MPs to avoid being eliminated.