In his first major interview since the Tory leadership election was officially launched, the Foreign Secretary has positioned himself as “the deal maker” who can deliver Brexit. Speaking exclusively to the Sunday Express, he insisted that he would keep no deal on the table and push for it “with a heavy heart” if the European Union refuses to negotiate. But he said he is confident that Brussels is ready to sort out the controversial Northern Ireland backstop and open the way for a deal.
I think with the right approach we can get a deal with the EU
Drawing on his entrepreneurial experience, including building up Hotcourses education enterprise which was recently sold for £30million, he said he knows what needs to be done to make a deal and deliver success after Brexit.
He said: “I know what it is like to set out from scratch, build up a business when you don’t have any capital, worry about paying the bills at the end of the month.
“I think with the right approach we can get a deal with the EU.
“I’m an entrepreneur by background, I’ve done deals all my life, as foreign secretary I’ve met many of the key players involved in this.
“I spoke to Angela Merkel on Tuesday and she said ‘of course if there is a new British Prime Minister we would want to hear what your plans are and we would want Britain to come up with a solution that works for the Northern Irish border.’”
Tory leadership BOMBSHELL: Five candidates ‘to PULL OUT’ of race before Monday deadline
Brexit news: Jeremy Hunt is confident Brussels is ready to sort out the Irish backstop
He has revealed that as foreign secretary he disagreed with Theresa May over agreeing to the backstop which could leave Britain trapped under EU rule with no way out.
He said: “I have been a loyal Foreign Secretary for the last year but that doesn’t mean I have agreed with every single decision that was made. I never believed that the backstop would get through Parliament – sadly, I was proved right.”
But he noted that because of Parliament’s Remainer majority it might prove impossible to go for no deal without an election which he said would be “suicide” for the party.
He warned: “We will absolutely be obliterated in an election if we haven’t delivered Brexit because we will be attacked by the Brexit Party on the right, the Lib Dems on the left and, as we saw from the Peterborough by-election, Labour will come right through the middle.
“The quickest way of putting Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street is to have a general election before we have delivered Brexit.”
He added: “There is only one way to deal with the Brexit Party and that is to deliver Brexit.
Brexit news: Jeremy Hunt admitted to disagreeing with Theresa May over the backstop
“If we had delivered Brexit as we wanted to on 29 March then there wouldn’t have been a Brexit Party.
“So anyone who thinks we can win an election without having delivered Brexit has got their head in the clouds.”
Referring to his time as health secretary when he faced an unprecedented junior doctors’ strike over improving access to health care to seven days he week, he said that he “won’t duck a fight” with the EU or Parliament.
The 52-year-old cabinet minister also appeared to position himself as Britain’s answer to Donald Trump in being able to bring about huge economic growth, make big international deals and restore national pride.
Reflecting on the apparent endorsement he received from the US President during the state visit last week, Mr Hunt said: “I get on well with President Trump. That doesn’t mean I agree with him on everything but I respect someone who is prepared to stand up for America.”
He also said there were lessons to be learnt from the President, particularly on the economy and pointed out that they were both business entrepreneurs.
Brexit news: Jeremy Hunt spoke with Angela Merkel last week about a solution for the Irish backstop
He said: “This is someone who knows how to negotiate a deal and as a fellow entrepreneur I look at that and say that is what we have got to do now with Brexit.
“And this is a man whose business reforms means that America now has GDP growth double ours and if you want to put more money into the NHS, social care system and education system we have got to grow the economy and you know I think one of the big opportunities for us as a country is for us to become the fastest growing, most dynamic, most hi-tech country in Europe.
“As someone from a business background, that is what I want to get on and deliver as Prime Minister because if you have a strong economy everything else is possible.”
He has promised that the boost for the economy would see his government ploughing money into social care and defence.
He said: “I want Britain to spend more money on is defence because I want Britain to walk tall in the world.”
He added: “As the first Prime Minister who has run the NHS, I believe that dignity for older people in our society is for me a litmus test on how civilised we are as a country.”
He also believes that the way the Brexit negotiations has meant “Britain’s reputation has taken a battering”.
He said: “That’d because we haven’t approached Brexit with a confidence that people expect to see from the UK.
“I think the world looked at Brexit and said ‘maybe we weren’t expecting that decision but we know it’s Britain who can make a success of it’ and then they look at the headlines and it doesn’t feel like it has been a very smooth process.”
The foreign secretary also repeated that he was wrong to vote Remain in the last referendum and insisted that Brexit is a “massive opportunity” for Britain.
“I think Brexit is a huge opportunity. If we go out into the world as a truly independent country I think that can be a catalyst for great things for our country.
“I want to change this country. I want us to have the most dynamic, pro-business, pro-enterprise, hi-tech economy in Europe. I think with our great universities and with our entrepreneurs we can do that.”