The UK Foreign Secretary and candidate for the country’s next Prime Minister, Jeremy Hunt, outlined what he has described as a “comprehensive plan” in the event that Britain crashes out of the EU without a deal.
In a speech on Monday, Mr Hunt said that he will commit to compensating Britain’s farming and fishing industries by establishing a "no-deal Brexit budget" that will inject £6 billion into those areas in the event that the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal on October 31. Hunt also pledged what was in effect a £13 billion per year corporation tax cut in order to "fire up" the economy in response to the fears of some that a no-deal outcome could weaken the legs of British industry. Many will naturally see Hunt's announcement as an attempt to outdo his Tory party rival and Brexiteer-in-chief, Boris Johnson.
“If you’re a sheep farmer in Shropshire or a fisherman in Peterhead I have a simple message for you, I know you face uncertainty if we have to leave the EU without a deal,” Mr Hunt declared.
“I will mitigate the impact of a no-deal Brexit on you and step in to help smooth those short term difficulties. If we could do it for the bankers in the financial crisis, we can do it for our fisherman, farmers and small businesses now,” he added.
Jeremy Hunt says he'd prepare a no-deal #Brexit budget for September, and create a no-deal "relief programme" including £6bn fund for farmers and fishermen to "ease transition" out of the EU— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) 1 July 2019
More: https://t.co/85sUNjXbA1 pic.twitter.com/magr6PAvQY
During the speech, Hunt called for the “immediate ramping up of no-deal preparations,” saying that Britain needs a leader who is “prepared to put in the hard yards preparing for a no-deal Brexit,” underscoring that point by adding that, “you cannot leave the EU on a wing and a prayer.”
As part of that process, Mr Hunt vowed to "cease all discussions" with the EU by the end of September 2019 if talks fail and to subsequently oversee a hard Brexit a month later by the end of October.
"If my judgement is that there is no deal to be done, I will immediately cease all discussions with the European Union and focus the whole country's attention on no-deal preparations," he said.
"If there is no engagement on the deal, if it is apparent that the [EU] Commission is simply not interested in negotiating, if there is no willingness to tackle the shortcomings of the backstop then there will be no kicking the can down the road and we will intensify and finalise our preparations to leave without a deal... From the start of my premiership, I will work on the basis we are leaving on 31 October without a deal unless the Commission changes its position," Mr Hunt added, intensifying his no-deal threats.
Yet, critics point out that the EU has said, on numerous occasions, that the divorce deal already agreed with the UK under incumbent Prime Minister Theresa May cannot be renegotiated, including the issue of the Irish backstop.
Furthermore, and in a sharp departure from his previous positions - which were often seen as more sympathetic to the Remain side of the Brexit debate - Mr Hunt this week attempted to appeal to Eurosceptics by floating the idea of withholding the UK’s £39 billion so-called ‘divorce bill’ if a no-deal Brexit scenario materialises into reality. Mr Hunt has repeatedly said in the past that a no-deal Brexit is not his desired option, but that it is necessary to prepare for the possibility.
In another move, Mr Hunt declared that he is planning to establish a no-deal Cabinet Task Force, which would be given broad authority to devise policies aimed at mitigating the impact of a no-deal Brexit on the country’s small businesses and economy at large.
As it stands, Boris Johnson has the lead over Jeremy Hunt in the Tory party leadership contest, with the former being the favourite candidate among Brexiteers. Yet, Hunt has stepped up his attempts in recent days to appeal to that constituency by employing more uncompromising rhetoric, saying during an interview over the weekend that, “at the beginning of October, if there is no prospect of a deal that can get through parliament, then I will leave at the end of October because that is our democratic promise to the British people.”
The sitting Chancellor, Philip Hammond, made his thoughts about the feasibility of Mr Hunt's plan known via Twitter.
The “fiscal firepower” we have built up in case of a No-Deal Brexit will only be available for extra spending if we leave with an orderly transition. If not, it will all be needed to plug the hole a No Deal Brexit will make in the public finances.— Philip Hammond (@PhilipHammondUK) 1 July 2019
On top of that, those in the Leave camp also seem to meet Mr Hunt's words with a degree of scepticism.