Brexit hypocrisy: the British politicians who keep changing their minds

MPs from the UK’s leading parties have been criticised for being inconsistent around the issue

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt reacts during a joint press conference with his German counterpart, at the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin, on July 23, 2018. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas hosts British counterpart Jeremy Hunt for first talks after Boris Johnson's resignation. - Germany OUT
 / AFP / dpa / Michael Kappeler

As Britain’s October departure date from the European Union looms and a fresh Conservative leadership battle begins, many MPs are adopting more hard-line stances on Brexit.

Prime Minister Theresa May announced her resignation in an emotional speech on May 24, saying she regretted not being able to deliver the UK’s EU withdrawal. Since her resignation, 10 Tory leadership hopefuls are jockeying to become the next leader, under pressure to break the parliamentary deadlock on Britain’s departure from the EU.

With a new prime minister set to be appointed and a general election still possible, many will remember the MPs that have been inconsistent around Brexit.

Jeremy Hunt, one of the favourites to succeed the prime minister, wrote in the Daily Telegraph earlier this week that pursuing a no-deal Brexit would leave his party facing "extinction". He said it would mean triggering a no confidence motion in the government and thus a general election, where the party would lose votes to the Brexit Party on the right and the Liberal Democrats to the left. Mr Hunt went as far as to warn that a general election "probably put Jeremy Corbyn [the Labour leader] in No 10 by Christmas".

But Mr Hunt doubled back on previous comments, where he said a no-deal Brexit would be better than no Brexit. He has also been in favour of threatening the EU with no deal in order get a better result from negotiations.  The foreign secretary also backed a second referendum in June 2016, before calling one “profoundly undemocratic” in November 2018.

Nigel Farage, the leader of the newly-formed Brexit Party, which gained significant support in the European elections, has also been inconsistent on Brexit. In an interview with The Daily Mirror in 2016, he said: "In a 52 [per cent Leave]-48 [per cent Remain] referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way." Although Leave won by 51.9% to 48.1%, Mr Farage has consistently said that the result clearly shows that the public want to leave the EU and has ignored calls for a second referendum.

Conservative MP and former Secretary of State for Exiting the EU David Davis has also flip-flopped on Brexit. In a 2012 speech on the EU, he said "if a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy”. But later in March 2017, he rejected calls for the government’s Brexit Bill to include a clause giving parliament to reverse Brexit. He has also previously said that there “would be no downside to Brexit, only a considerable upside”, despite resigning from his post as Brexit Secretary in July 2018 after disagreeing with Mrs May’s negotiation strategy.

Following the parliamentary impasse, Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn appears to be warming to the idea of a second referendum, even though he has a marked history of being a Eurosceptic. After Labour’s poor European parliament election results and a surge in popularity with pro-Remain party Liberal Democrats, Mr Corbyn appears to be changing his stance on having a people's vote and backed having a public poll on Brexit. However, he said such a vote is “some way off”. The Labour party has been divided on the issue, as many of its MPs back a second referendum and even remaining in the European Union.

Britain's opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses a European Parliament election campaign rally in Bootle, north England on May 18, 2019.  / AFP / Oli SCARFF

The Conservative leadership favourite, Boris Johnson, is not known for his consistency around the issue either. In a tweet from July 2017, he said “there is no plan for a no deal, because we’re going to get a great deal.” But Mr Johnson’s campaigning in recent months gives the impression he has been a no-deal Brexiter since the beginning of his political career.

Mr Johnson also previously voted to stay in the single market, which a no-deal Brexit would forbid. Although multiple reports have confirmed that friends of the Tory MP had briefed journalists that he was worried about the UK drifting towards Norway-style Brexit in the single market, before the referendum he enthusiastically endorsed remaining in the single market.

He also infamously penned two different columns for The Daily Telegraph: one campaigning to remain and one campaigning to leave the European Union. The secret remain column didn't get released October 2016, three months after Britain voted to leave the union.

Although some MPs may believe that changing their opinion on Brexit will win over the the public, it may actually lead to their downfall as voters turn to parties with a clear message on Britain’s departure from the bloc.