Hunt receives Brexit rebuff as ex-Canadian PM Harper says he is ‘neutral’ after being earmarked for leading trade role as Johnson lines up job for Jacob Rees-Mogg
- Mr Hunt was reported to have brought in Mr Harper to lead a free trade team
- Foreign Secretary later said they’d only had ‘discussions’ about a role
- Ex-PM Harper said: I would be willing to assist whoever serves as the next leader of the UK Conservative Party on trade matters
Jeremy Hunt was rebuff today as a former Canadian prime minister distanced himself from reports he had been recruited to lead his Brexit negotiating team.
Stephen Harper said that he was ‘neutral’ in the Tory leadership and happy to assist either Mr Hunt or rival Boris Johnson if they asked.
It came after the Sunday Times suggested the man who led Canada from 2006 to 2015 was among a slew of Brexit draft picks from both sides.
Mr Hunt has also reportedly brought in another Canadian trade expert, Rona Ambrose, and Crawford Falconer, who is highly regarded by Brexiteers.
Mr Johnson, meanwhile, is said to have brought in European Research Group chairman and hardliner Jacob Rees-Mogg and two ministers, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox and Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay.
Talking to Twitter today Mr Harper, who leads the International Democrat Union after serving as a Conservative, wrote: ‘I would be willing to assist whoever serves as the next leader of the UK Conservative Party on trade matters, should they wish.
Mr Hunt this morning said that he had been in ‘discussions’ with Mr Harper and ‘he’s someone whose talents I’d very much hope to use’
‘There is a lot to learn from Canada’s strong record in this area. Of course, as IDU chairman I am neutral in all member party leadership races.’
Mr Hunt this morning said that he had been in ‘discussions’ with Mr Harper and ‘he’s someone whose talents I’d very much hope to use’.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show he wanted an ‘international’ team to negotiate the UK’s trade deal post-Brexit.
‘My point is this – that is for the trade deal post leaving the EU. But ahead of that we’ve got to leave the EU and we know Parliament will try very hard to stop a no-deal Brexit,’ he added.
‘The quickest way, the safest way to leave the EU is to send to Brussels someone they will talk to, someone who can negotiate a better deal, a deal that can get through Parliament and I believe I’m the person to do that.’
Steven Harper was Conservative prime minister of Canada from 2006 to 2015 when he was ousted by Justin Trudeau
Mr Hunt earlier said some of his spending commitments ‘would have to wait’ if there was a no-deal Brexit as money would be diverted to support businesses, adding: ‘I wouldn’t drop them because I think we can make a success of no-deal… they would take longer because you wouldn’t have that money at your fingertips straight away.’
He added: ‘Of those commitments, the one I would not drop is the one to reduce corporation tax. It’s not the tax cut people are talking about on the doorstep when you meet them but it is one that would fire up the economy in a way that would be helpful in a no-deal context because we would have economic bumpiness and we need to support businesses.’
Mr Hunt was challenged on how he could protect the union and deliver Brexit, saying: ‘If you send to Brussels someone who can negotiate a deal that can get through Parliament then you won’t have a no-deal situation and then you reduce those risks, but I’m also very clear we are going to leave the European Union come what may, and I will deliver that.
‘But if that happens, I’ll do it in a way that protects our union because it’s absolutely vital we do.’
Mr Hunt, questioned if he would look people in the eye and tell them they should be prepared to lose their job as he will pursue a no-deal Brexit, replied: ‘I’d do so but I’d do it with a heavy heart precisely because of the risks.’
He added he did not believe such a decision would emerge as he can negotiate a deal, before also saying: ‘If in order to do what the people tell us to do we have to leave without a deal, I’d do that, but I’d find support for those companies to help them weather the storms.’