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'If we don't back Theresa May, we'll have no Brexit': Jeremy Hunt issues unprecedented warning

December 4, 2017 2:37 PM
By Ashley Cowburn Political Correspondent in The Independent

Senior Cabinet minister's remarks follow reports pro-Leave Conservatives have issued series of red lines to PM as exit talks with EU reach critical phase.

Jeremy Hunt has told Tory MPs that Brexit will not happen if the party does not back Theresa May, in an unprecedented warning.

The senior Cabinet minister's remarks came in response to reports that pro-Leave Conservatives had issued a series of red lines to the Prime Minister as exit talks with the EU reach a critical phase.

Speaking to ITV's Peston on Sunday, the Health Secretary said: "I think there's an even bigger point here that the choice we face now is not between this Brexit, or that Brexit. If we don't back Theresa May we will have no Brexit and she is doing an unbelievingly challenging job, amazingly well."

On Sunday a series of prominent Tories including Jacob Rees-Mogg, John Redwood and former chancellor Lord Lawson signed a letter urging Ms May to refuse to settle the UK's "divorce bill" with the EU unless Brussels agrees to a series of new demands.

These include settling the terms of a free trade agreement "in principle" by the end of March 2019 and an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and the freedom of movement to the UK for EU nationals when the UK leaves the bloc at the end of the Article 50 process.

"If the EU refuses to agree to these terms by the end of the December council, the UK - having exhausted every avenue - should suspend its participation in the negotiations and inform the EU that, unless they are prepared to talk to us seriously about a future free trade arrangement, we will revert to World Trade Organisation terms from March 30 2019," the letter states.

The letter was organised by the Leave Means Leave group and other signatories include Conservative former ministers Owen Paterson and David Jones and the Labour MP Graham Stringer.

But Mr Hunt told ITV that the Supreme Court will decide "what the law of the country is in this country, as voted by Parliament", adding: "These are negotiations and there are technical things that we have to sort out.

"The fact is that the ECJ will not have sway over British law, that is a very big change. In terms of migrants' rights, we have lots of Brits who are living in Spain and there are lots of Europeans who are living over here and there's going to need to be some kind of co-operation between the legal systems of the EU and the UK to make this work. But this is a detail, the big thing is that European law will not hold sway over British law."

Vince Cable (Chris McAndrew [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat leader, seized on Mr Hunt's comments, adding: "It is encouraging to see a senior cabinet minister admit that the option of an exit from Brexit is still on the table.

"This comes as we see growing support amongst the public for a referendum on the deal. The Government must now confirm that Article 50 can be withdrawn and that the country still has a choice over whether to proceed with Brexit.

"As the impact of Brexit becomes clear, from the £50bn divorce bill to years of lower living standards, it's crucial people have the final say over whether to accept what's on offer or stay in the EU."