Jeremy Hunt: No deal Brexit could happen by accident

New foreign minister said EU would be hit hard by job losses if no deal agreed

Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt leaves 10 Downing Street in central London after attending the weekly cabinet meeting on July 17, 2018.   / AFP / Tolga AKMEN
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The UK’s new foreign secretary has pleaded with France and Germany to step in and prevent a the possibility of a no deal Brexit, as negotiations with the EU continue to hit roadblocks.

Jeremy Hunt said a failure to reach a withdrawal agreement would mean relying on non-EU treaties and customs agreements and hit the bloc hard with widespread job losses expected.

"There is real chance of no deal by accident. Everyone is assuming, no, no, no, this will never happen. Well, actually, it could," he told the Evening Standard.

“The probability of no deal is increasing by the day until we see a change of approach from the European Commission who have this view that they just need to wait and Britain will blink. That is just a profound misunderstanding of us as a nation,” he added.

It’s been a tumultuous few weeks for the UK Brexit push, with lead negotiator David Davis and foreign minister Boris Johnson resigning dissatisfied over the prime minister Theresa May’s push for a softer exiting of the EU – although Mrs May has now stepped down from certain pledges after pressure from hard-right conservative parliament members. Mr Hunt said a no deal would be an economic “tragedy” for the continent and it could change British attitudes to Europe “for a generation.”

“France and Germany have to send a strong signal to the Commission that we need to negotiate a pragmatic and sensible outcome that protects jobs on both sides of the Channel because for every job lost in the UK, there will be jobs lost in Europe as well if Brexit goes wrong.”

French ministers have embarked on a charm offensive to entice London-based firms to invest and move to France.

Mr Hunt was among the pro-EU conservative cabinet ministers as was former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, who is now Editor-in-Chief of the Standard. The new foreign minister was speaking ahead of critical talks with is French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian.

French President Emmanuel Macron has also invited Mrs May to his holiday home in the south of France on Friday.

“Probably the (UK financial centre) City, as the financier of European business, is the central point to make here. If it became harder for European businesses to access finance, that is far from trivial.”

“The City itself would find a way to thrive, whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. If it became a low-tax, low-regulation, offshoot fully outside the EU, it would find a way to thrive in those circumstances. But for European businesses the impact would be profound.”


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He appeared to throw his weight behind Mrs Mays desire to keep Britain economically close to the EU and also rebuffed calls for a hard Brexit by a bloc of Tory MP’s. Mr Hunt said the cabinet was, if anything, more “united” than ever after the departures of Mr Johnson and Mr Davis because “we are absolutely clear what we want.

“What would be less easy to solve would be the breakdown in relations and trust between Britain and European countries that would happen in that situation and I think that would be a profound geo-strategic mistake. This is a time of massive uncertainty.”