Jeremy Hunt’s plan makes no-deal Brexit almost inevitable
Foreign secretary sets out Brexit plan more implausible than Boris Johnson’s
Jeremy Hunt delivers a speech on his Brexit plan in London on Monday. Photograph: Frank Augstein/Getty Images
In his final pitch last month to Conservative MPs, home secretary Sajid Javid admitted that he had little chance of defeating Boris Johnson but he said if he made it into the final two, he could “make him a better Boris”. As Jeremy Hunt prepares for his likely defeat before the party membership, he seems determined to do the opposite.
The foreign secretary, who campaigned for Remain in 2016 and called for a second referendum within weeks of the first one, started his leadership campaign by dismissing October 31st as a fake deadline and promising to negotiate with the European Union until he secured a deal. But on Monday, he set out a Brexit plan more implausible than Johnson’s – and which would make leaving the EU without a deal almost inevitable.
Ignoring every lesson of the past three years of negotiations, Hunt would cobble together a plan with various Conservative factions and the DUP and seek to negotiate it with the EU in just three weeks. It would be “based on the alternative arrangements proposals” but to win the support of the DUP it would need to call for the removal of the Northern Ireland backstop from the withdrawal agreement.
The privately-funded Alternative Arrangements Commission, which is backed by leading Conservative Brexiteers, published an interim report last week including proposals that would impose financial and administrative burdens on cross-border traders. The report recommends a common sanitary and phytosanitary area for the British Isles with “equivalent” regulations to the EU’s single market and special economic zones on the Border that would require checks on both sides.
The EU has agreed to consider alternative arrangements for the Border but only after the withdrawal agreement, including the backstop, has been ratified.
Hunt’s plan is more detailed than Johnson’s, especially on measures to mitigate the impact of a no-deal Brexit on sectors such as farming and fishing. But Johnson’s vagueness could prove to be a virtue in the negotiations, allowing him more latitude to portray a compromise with the EU as a famous victory.
Conservative Brexiteers might be slower to destroy Johnson, the figurehead of the 2016 Leave campaign, than to bring down Hunt, whose credentials on Brexit they mistrust. Both candidates have hardened their positions on Brexit in recent days but Hunt’s latest plan has made him the riskier choice for Conservatives hoping to avoid a no-deal Brexit at the end of October.