Steve Brine is MP for Winchester. He served as PPS to Jeremy Hunt as Health Secretary from 2015-2016 and as Public Health Minister from 2017-2018.
I’ve seen Jeremy Hunt close up and under pressure. Here’s why I am supporting him as our next Prime Minister.
The week after the 2015 General Election, I was feeling rather pleased with the way things had turned out. First elected to the Winchester constituency in 2010 with a majority of just 3,048, I had seen that rise to 17,000 with a 52 per cent share of the vote.
My intention, having served on the committee in my first Parliament, was to run for the Chairmanship of the Justice Select Committee. As I set about making plans, Gavin Barwell (he was then in the Government Whips office) called to say the Prime Minister wanted me to go to the Department of Health as PPS to Jeremy Hunt.
We’re near neighbours in constituency terms but we didn’t know each other well. Nonetheless I jumped at the chance, having worked consistently on health in Parliament and in Winchester.
Jeremy could not have been more welcoming or warmer towards me and was determined to ensure I got as involved as I wanted to be and learned as much as possible.
Being a PPS can be a thankless task – parliamentary bag carrier, the media call us – and some Ministers treat them as such. Jeremy was different. Sure, he needed my help with colleagues, and around Health Questions in the Commons, but he always went out of his way to include me and to make sure I was learning how Government works from the inside.
I attended many of his ‘priority’ meetings with senior NHS figures (such as Simon Stevens and Mike Richards) as well as countless officials at the Department of Health. I saw first-hand the respect they had for him personally and for his very obvious commitment to the NHS, its staff and its patients. I saw close-up his understanding of the system and determination to drive reform around his priorities as Secretary of State, including of course patient safety.
And it was this focus which led us both to a truly defining moment in his tenure as the longest-serving Health Secretary: the junior doctors’ dispute.
He faced down the notoriously tough doctors union to introduce a new junior doctors contract in the face of a series of strikes that lasted longer than the miners’ strikes. No other Health Secretary in history has taken on the doctors’ union and won – and history will record he was right about that one.
Jeremy never backs down in negotiations, having personally forced the Government to deliver on the £350 million a week referendum promise by securing an extra £20 billion for the NHS through tough negotiations with a resistant Treasury.
And it was the issue of future NHS funding where I saw, by then as one of Jeremy’s Ministers at the Department of Health, the negotiator get his way. He was steely without doubt, and ruthless in his pursuit of a record settlement – which would form the cornerstone of our new Long Term Plan – but I am absolutely sure it wouldn’t have happened without his force of personality and ability to take Number 10 and 11 with him.
So Jeremy is pragmatic, persuasive and a tough negotiator, and that will serve him well as Prime Minister at any time, let alone right now.
The options we face are a General Election or a second referendum which risk annihilating our party, or one last heave to get a deal through this hung Parliament.
That means we need a tough negotiator with whom the EU are prepared to do business on the backstop. Jeremy is an entrepreneur with a background in creating jobs, doing deals and taking risks: he has spent the last year building relationships with European leaders, and is one of the few people who could convince them to re-open the negotiations.
At best our new Prime Minister will get one shot at extracting changes to the backstop.
My colleagues need to think long and hard about who we want sitting round the table with the EU, striking deals for us at 4am. They need to ask who has the negotiating skills, diplomatic touch and entrepreneurial flair to extract the compromise that we need and the answer becomes obvious: Jeremy Hunt.
Equally clear to me is that we need a leader who can unite the Party in order to unite the country.
Neither of those things is possible once the other Jeremy (Corbyn) gets into Number 10.
Very few people will be able to hold our fractured party together, and bring our country together. Anyone who seriously alienates the Lib Dem/Tory or UKIP swing voters who gave us a majority in 2015 will hand the keys of Downing Street to Corbyn. As someone who voted Remain but has worked tirelessly to honour the referendum result, Jeremy is one of the few who can unify.
After nine years in the Cabinet, Jeremy has the experience, stature and track record of competence to lead the country at this perilous time.
He survived in one of the toughest jobs in Government for five years to become the longest-serving Health Secretary ever – managing an annual budget of over £100 billion and the fourth largest workforce in the world.
Jeremy was also responsible for the successful delivery of the London Olympics, the largest peacetime logistical exercise in the country’s history.
He is the only candidate who is also a successful entrepreneur, having set up a business and grown it into a multinational company employing over 200 people. That business gave five per cent of its profit to charity and established a charitable foundation that has given millions to some of the poorest people in the world.
Those entrepreneurial skills are exactly what the country needs to help us navigate this challenging phase and embrace the opportunities of Brexit.
As Foreign Secretary, Jeremy has quickly gained respect at home and abroad as a competent and compassionate Foreign Secretary, who champions human rights and fights for British interests, including personally brokering peace talks in the Yemen conflict, fighting for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and securing a presidential pardon for Matthew Hedges, the academic who was falsely imprisoned in Dubai.
That phone call from Gavin Barwell in 2015, that took me into Team Hunt in the first place, allowed me to see at close quarters the man who I hope will be our next Prime Minister.
Jeremy has the temperament, the personality and the international reputation to take charge at this time.
He has exactly the cool head under fire you need in the top job and he is, above all, someone the country can trust and rely upon. I’ve seen Jeremy Hunt close-up and it’s why he has my support to be our next Prime Minister.