Hunt’s bid to spook Brussels falls flat

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has been sent to Europe in a bid to pile pressure on Brussels

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has been sent to Europe in a bid to pile pressure on Brussels Photo: PA - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

The foreign secretary has warned of a 'messy divorce' unless the UK and European Union get their act together.

Jeremy Hunt, speaking after talks with Austrian counterpart Karin Kneissl, again warned the EU over the danger of Brexit talks breaking down.

The new foreign secretary has clearly been sent to Austria – and he was in France previously – in a bid to put pressure on Brussels. But his latest attempt to spook Europe failed.

He warned failure to reach an agreement would be a 'terrible mistake' and called for the EU to help find a 'pragmatic solution' to the current impasse.

But Kneissl played down the warnings that both sides could be heading for an accidental no-deal Brexit although she acknowledged they were 'prepared for the different possible scenarios'.

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Meanwhile, prime minister Theresa May was planning to cut short her holiday in the Italian Lakes to hold a face-to-face meeting with Emmanuel Macron, one of Europe's key powerbrokers.

She will travel to the south of France to meet the president at his Fort de Bregancon country retreat on the Mediterranean coast.

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Hunt's visit to Austria coincides with the country holding the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union, giving Vienna a key role in deciding the agenda for the bloc's leaders.

Speaking alongside his Austrian counterpart the foreign secretary said: 'Austria has a special role because of its EU presidency and so all we say is, looking at your huge experience of foreign policy and historical knowledge, let's not make this one of those moments where a terrible mistake is made which we are still talking about in 20 or 30 years.

'Let's have a pragmatic solution that allows that deep and special partnership, friendship, between the UK and Europe to continue.'

On Twitter he added: 'We want the EU to prosper but there is a real risk of a messy divorce which would be a geostrategic mistake.'

The foreign secretary previously warned that the UK and EU could end up in a no-deal situation by accident even though neither side wants it.

But ahead of their talks Kneissl poured cold water on that suggestion, telling BBC Radio 4's Today: 'From the (European) Commission's side, there is a clear-cut schedule, so an accident is not really something people are working for.'

She later said that the talks with Hunt had been 'excellent and inspiring' and insisted that 'we pursue a pragmatic approach and are prepared for the different possible scenarios of Brexit'.

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