Tory leadership: Hunt says Brexit negotiation is a matter of ‘trust’ in swipe at Johnson

Leadership frontrunner Boris Johnson challenges the foreign secretary to commit to a Halloween departure from the EU

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Tuesday 25 June 2019 19:11 BST
Jeremy Hunt: 'The next Prime Minister must be trustworthy'

Jeremy Hunt has said that he is the Tory leadership candidate who can be trusted to get a Brexit deal with the EU, in an apparent swipe at rival Boris Johnson.

In an interview with the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, the foreign secretary said that Tory voters must make a judgment on the contenders’ “personality” and warned that if the UK sent “someone where there’s no trust” to talks, there would be “no negotiation, no deal”.

Mr Hunt denied that he was questioning the trustworthiness of his predecessor as foreign secretary, who has frequently infuriated Brussels, but his comments will be seen as a warning that the former London mayor’s character may get in the way of a smooth and orderly Brexit.

They came as Labour voiced alarm over a promise from Mr Johnson to “reform” the NHS if he takes power next month.

In a video, obtained by The Guardian, of the leadership frontrunner answering a question about his NHS plans at a party event in Sutton Coldfield on Saturday, Mr Johnson can be heard saying: “It needs more money but where you are absolutely right is that it needs reform.

“We can’t just put more money in without also asking for productivity improvements as well. We have got to be careful and realise the pressures our doctors and nurses are under, but it’s not just a question of more money.”

During an interview with LBC, Johnson again refused to explain the events which led to police being called to his partner’s flat
During an interview with LBC, Johnson again refused to explain the events which led to police being called to his partner’s flat (PA)

Jon Ashworth, Shadow health secretary, said: “These comments are alarming but unsurprising given the hard right agenda Johnson has been putting forward.

“His tax plans will benefit the richest, he’s the biggest defender of the bankers who crashed the economy, and he’s been buddying up with Trump to sell off our NHS to US corporations.

“His comments to Tory Party members about his plans for the NHS need to be clarified immediately.”

After widespread allegations that Mr Johnson was “bottling” debate and a weekend dominated by reports of an altercation with his partner at their south London flat, the former foreign secretary embarked on what is promised to be a media blitz, with a series of radio interviews and a walkabout in Oxshott, Surrey.

It was also reported on Wednesday that Mr Johnson has hired Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, to reinvigorate his campaign following the constant media questions about his private life. Mr Duncan Smith, a fellow hardline Brexiteer, will be the campaign chairman.

Speaking to LBC radio, Mr Johnson refused to explain the events which led to police being called to partner Carrie Symonds’ home on Friday and dismissed “waste of time” questions about photos which later emerged of them smiling and holding hands in a countryside setting.

Mr Johnson backtracked on his widely-challenged plan for avoiding punishing tariffs after a no-deal Brexit, admitting he would be unable to do it “unilaterally”.

He acknowledged that Bank of England governor Mark Carney was right to say there had to be “agreement on both sides” before the UK and EU could take advantage of a procedure known as Gatt 24 to continue with existing zero-tariff arrangements in the event of no-deal.

On TalkRadio, he revealed that he relaxes by making models of buses out of wine crates

Simon McCoy asks what Boris Johnson writes on the side of his model buses

And he said that getting out of the EU by the deadline of 31 October was a “do or die, come what may” issue for him.

He later sent an open letter to Mr Hunt, urging his rival to match his pledge that the UK will leave the EU by Halloween, deal or no deal.

But Mr Hunt dismissed Halloween as a “fake deadline” and confirmed that he would be ready to extend negotiations again if it was clear there was a deal to be got.

He told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg that Mr Johnson’s promise to leave by the end of October “come hell or high water” was “more likely to trip us into a general election before we’ve delivered Brexit, and that would hand the keys (to Downing Street) to Jeremy Corbyn and then we’d have no Brexit at all.”

Mr Hunt said he would not rule out a no-deal Brexit, but added: “If I did it, it would be with a heavy heart because businesses up and down the country would face a lot of destruction. I think it’d be very bad for the union with Scotland. I would do it though, but as a last resort.”

He said Tories must ask themselves which of the candidates would be able to persuade the EU to negotiate a different deal from the agreement reached with Theresa May last November.

“Both Boris and I want to change that deal, and the judgement is, who is the person we trust as PM to go to Brussels and bring back that deal?” he said.

“It’s about the personality of our PM. If you choose someone where there’s no trust, there’s going to be no negotiation, no deal. And quite possibly a general election which could mean we have no Brexit either. If you choose someone that the other side will talk to who’s going to be very tough, there will least be in negotiation and I believe this deal to be done.”

Asked if he was saying that Mr Johnson would be untrustworthy as a PM, he replied: “I would never make those comments about a fellow candidate ... I’m saying I am trustworthy and I do believe that I can be trusted to deliver this deal.”

After Sky News cancelled a planned TV debate because Mr Johnson refused to take part, Mr Hunt taunted his rival on social media as #BoJoNoShow.

The former health secretary repeated his assurance that as prime minister he would not legislate to reduce the maximum limit for abortion, after saying last week that he would prefer it to be 12 weeks after conception rather than the current 24.

But he told the BBC that if a backbench MP brought forward a private members’ bill on the issue, he would make his decision on which way to vote “a matter of conscience”.

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