Hunt urges Johnson to 'be straight with people' over no-deal Brexit

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Finnbarr Webster

Jeremy Hunt has urged Tory leadership rival Boris Johnson to “be straight with people” about what a no-deal Brexit would mean.

The foreign secretary said Mr Johnson’s “million to one” claim about the chance of a no-deal “flies in the face of reality”.

Mr Johnson said any suggestion Brexit could be delayed again would “end up eroding trust in politics”.

Both men have said they would try to renegotiate a deal with the EU.

But Mr Johnson says the UK must leave the EU on 31 October, “do or die”, with or without a deal.

Mr Hunt says he would leave without a deal in October if there was no prospect of leaving with one – but has not ruled out a further delay and has called 31 October a “fake deadline”.

They are competing for Conservative Party members’ votes in the race to replace Theresa May as Conservative leader – and prime minister.

At a hustings in Bournemouth on Thursday, Mr Johnson was asked if he would rule out suspending Parliament – a controversial move – in order to push through a no-deal Brexit.

Describing it as an “archaic device”, he said: “I’m not attracted to the idea of a no-deal exit from the EU but, you know, I think it would be absolutely folly to rule it out. I think it’s an essential tool of our negotiation.

“I don’t envisage the circumstances in which it will be necessary to prorogue Parliament, nor am I attracted to that expedient.”

A no-deal exit would see the UK leave the customs union and single market overnight and start trading with the EU on World Trade Organization rules.

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Finnbarr Webster

Mr Johnson has said a mechanism known as GATT 24 could be used to prevent tariffs, if there was a no-deal Brexit.

But in a letter to his rival, Mr Hunt quoted Leave-backing cabinet ministers Liam Fox and Geoffrey Cox, who have argued that this would require a deal with the EU.

In his letter, he asked: “Who is correct: You, or the Attorney General and the International Trade Secretary?”

He also questioned Mr Johnson’s suggestion that a free trade agreement could be negotiated during an “implementation period”, if no deal was reached – saying it was a “fact” that without a deal, there would be no implementation period and Brussels negotiators put the political cohesion of the EU before economics.

“We must be careful to face the facts as we find them. Will you be straight with people that no deal means no implementation period?”

At the hustings, Mr Johnson criticised Mr Hunt’s suggestion that the current Brexit deadline of 31 October could be delayed again – having been pushed back from 29 March after MPs repeatedly rejected the deal Mrs May had agreed with the EU.

“Anybody who proposes any further delay is simply going to end up eroding trust in politics, eroding people’s confidence in our democratic institutions further,” he said.

“And further weakening out great Conservative Party and our mission to lead this country.

“And it simply won’t work. Kick the can again and we kick the bucket, my friends, that’s the sad reality.”

Compare the candidates’ policies

Select a topic and a candidate to find out more


– Would leave the EU with no deal, but it’s not his preferred option.
– Wants changes to the Irish backstop and proposes sending a new negotiating team to Brussels.
– Wants to make changes to the withdrawal agreement and thinks it’s possible to get them done by 31 October, but has not ruled out an extension.

– Has pledged to get the UK out of the EU on 31 October, the deadline for Brexit set by the EU, but thinks the chances of a no-deal Brexit happening are a “million to one”.
– Would like to leave on the basis of a new withdrawal agreement negotiated with the EU, with the backstop removed and replaced with “alternative arrangements”.
– If this is not possible, he would ask the EU to agree to a “standstill period” during which the UK could negotiate a free trade deal with the bloc.
– Failing this, the UK must be prepared to leave on World Trade Organization (WTO) terms if required, and the country would “get ready for that outcome”.
– Says he would demonstrate “creative ambiguity” over when the UK will pay the £39bn “divorce” payment it is due to give the EU as part of the negotiated deal. He has also said the money should be retained until there is “greater clarity about the way forward”.


– Calls for flexibility on immigration, saying skilled workers should be prioritised.
– Wants to review policies of stopping migrants with less than £30,000 coming to the UK to work.
– Would scrap the Conservative target of reducing net annual immigration to below 100,000 a year, he told the Daily Mail.

– Promises to deliver an Australian-style points-based immigration system, considering factors including whether an immigrant has a firm job offer before arrival and their ability to speak English.
– Opposes the net migration target of under 100,000 per year.
– Says he is “open to talent, open to immigration” but it “should be controlled”.
– Would block the ability to claim benefits immediately when someone arrives in the UK.


– As an entrepreneur, he wants to turn Britain into “the next Silicon Valley… a hub of innovation”.
– Pledges to slash business taxes to the lowest in Europe to attract firms to Britain after Brexit and reduce corporation tax to 12.5%.
– Wants to increase the threshold at which workers pay National Insurance to at least £12,000 a year.

– Pledges to cut income tax for people earning more than £50,000 by raising the 40% tax threshold to £80,000.
– Plans to pay for the reported £9.6bn annual cost of the cut in part from a pot set aside by the Treasury for a possible no-deal Brexit, and in part by increasing employee National Insurance payments.
– However he says his tax proposals will begin by “lifting thresholds for those on lowest pay”.


– Wants to boost defence spending by £15bn over the next five years.
– Promises to build 1.5m new homes for young people over the next 10 years.

– Pledges to “find the money” to recruit an extra 20,000 police officers over an as-yet unspecified period.
– Promises to speed up the delivery of “full fibre” internet connection, with the super-fast service available to all by 2025, eight years earlier than currently planned.
– Focus on Northern Powerhouse.
– Wants to review the HS2 train project.


– Says there should be an automatic system for people to save for their social care costs in old age “in the same way they save for their pension”.
– Says people should be able to opt out of the scheme, and the government would cap costs for those who “save responsibly” during their lives.
– Mental health support to be offered in every school and a crackdown on social media companies that fail to regulate their content.

– Has previously said money spent on the EU could be put into the NHS.
– Says more should be spent on social care, according to a cross-party “national consensus”.
– Says the NHS would be “free to everybody at the point of use” under his premiership and has ruled out a pay-for-access NHS, even as a result of a post-Brexit trade deal with the US.


– Says anyone who creates a new business which employs more than 10 people for five years would have their university tuition fee debts written off.
– He also plans a cut in interest rate paid on student loans.
– Long-term plan to provide more funding for the teaching profession in return for a guarantee that no one leaves the education system without a “rigorous qualification” sufficient to work up to at least the average salary.
– Wants to transform the education system to abolish illiteracy.

– Promises to raise spending on secondary school pupils to £5,000 each.
– Called the funding gap between some schools in cities compared with those in rural areas a “disturbing reality”.

He also stood by his suggestion that the chances of leaving the EU without a deal were a “million to one”, arguing there had been a “change in mood in Westminster” and that there was now a “growing opportunity to get this thing done with style”.

In other answers from the hustings, Mr Hunt suggested he would quit as PM if he failed to deliver Brexit. Asked if he would “fall on his sword”, he said: “Of course, no PM is going to last any time at all if they don’t deliver Brexit and deliver it very quickly.”

He also ruled out involving Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage in negotiations with the EU: “Nigel Farage doesn’t want a deal, he wants a WTO Brexit straight away.

“And while I would be prepared to do that if there was no other alternative and I’m absolutely clear about that, I think it would be much better for our businesses and much better for our Union if we could get a deal and I haven’t given up on that.”

Mr Johnson dismissed his rival’s pledge to cancel student debts for some entrepreneurs, saying: “I think people, a lot of people, would automatically be defining themselves as entrepreneurs.”

“I think the more sensible things to look at are the interest rate, and a reduction of the interest rate, also looking at the cost of maintenance because I think those are very, very high and that people are paying a lot of money back over a long time.”

The candidates are set to face each other at an ITV debate on 9 July and at an event hosted by the Sun newspaper and talkRADIO on 15 July.