Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has been accused of having “more faces than a town clock” after executing a screeching U-turn on the effects of a no-deal Brexit.
Hunt – who has previously said Britain would regret a no-deal Brexit ‘for generations to come’ – claimed today that it would flourish with or without an agreement on its relationship with the EU after it leaves next year.
Speaking in Japan, the foreign secretary told an interviewer from the Associated Press: “The UK will flourish and prosper as one of the strongest economies in the world whatever the outcome of these talks.”
But while he said a no-deal Brexit was possible, he said in the interview in Tokyo: “I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest for that to happen. So that’s why we are cautiously optimistic that we will get a deal. But there’s a lot of work to do to get there.”
Hunt was a passionate Remain support during the 2016 referendum but has since U-turned, saying earlier this month that his ‘views had changed’ since getting his new cabinet post and Brexit was ‘vital’.
Many Tory-watchers have interpreted his change of heart as a repositioning for a future leadership run in the event Theresa May steps down or is forced from office.
Labour MP Owen Smith, a champion of the anti-Brexit campaign group Best for Britain, said: “Jeremy Hunt has got more faces than a town clock when it comes to Brexit. He used to back a people’s vote and just last August said Britain would regret a no-deal Brexit ‘for generations to come’.
“Now he claims it will be fine and we’ll ‘flourish’ under any scenario.
“In reality, as the IMF warned yesterday, there is no Brexit deal that will better what we have at present, while a no-deal Brexit, as the old Jeremy Hunt used to acknowledge, would be certain to hit jobs, wages, investment and public services for years into the future.”
Hunt defended May’s Chequers proposals, which have been roundly attacked by his predecessor, Boris Johnson. Hunt succeeded Johnson as foreign secretary in July.
“British politics is littered with the graveyards of people who have predicted the demise of Theresa May and been proved wrong,” he said.
“Of course Boris Johnson doesn’t agree with some of the policy decisions that she’s taken, but Theresa May has to speak not just for the 52 % who voted for Brexit, she has to speak for 100%of the country.”
Hunt, who lived in Japan in the early 1990s, delivered a short speech without notes in Japanese to about 50 people from UK-Japan exchange programmes.
His trip has so far gone better than when he told politicians in Beijing his wife was Japanese. She is from China.