Katy Balls Katy Balls

What Hunt’s no deal warning reveals about the Tory leadership contest

The Conservative leadership contest doesn’t officially commence until June but that hasn’t stopped the various contenders parading their credentials. With ten candidates now declared, the expectation is that this number will rise to at least fifteen before the nomination period starts. Jeremy Hunt is seen as one of the favourites and has today set the news agenda with an article for the Telegraph in which he suggests pursuing a no deal Brexit amounts to ‘political suicide’ – as it would mean going into a general election before Brexit had been delivered (as – he says – Parliament would block it):

‘Attacked by the Brexit Party on the Right and the Liberal Democrats on the Left, we will face extinction. Any candidate for prime minister whose strategy leads inexorably to a general election is offering a prospectus for disaster.

Trying to deliver no deal through a general election is not a solution. It is political suicide, that would delight Nigel Farage and probably put Jeremy Corbyn in No 10 by Christmas.’

Hunt’s comments suggest that he believes a Brexit deal is the only way to leave the EU – though it’s not entirely clear how he would plan to pass one. The Foreign Secretary’s comments have raised eyebrows within the Tory party as Hunt is someone who has previously spoken in favour of – at the very least – threatening the EU with no deal in order to get a better result from the negotiations. Critics have been quick to describe his latest intervention as an example of Hunt flip-flopping on the issue of the day.

Most revealing however is what the comments tell us about the state of the Tory leadership contest. There had been a view that figures like Hunt would attempt to big up their Brexiteer credentials and compete with candidates like Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab over who was the more eurosceptic in a bid to endear themselves to the membership.

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