ConservativeHome has sent a detailed questionnaire to all the Conservative leadership candidates.
We are also asking public questions of the leading contenders each morning – which are deliberately crafted to be as testing as possible.
So top marks to Jeremy Hunt for not ducking them, and responding to those we asked of him yesterday: his answers are below.
The questionnaire answers from all candidates will be published next week.
– – –
1. Shortly before the 2016 leadership election, you supported staying in the Single Market. When did you change your mind and, if you’ve changed it once on the issue, might you not change it again?
I’ve said consistently that the referendum result has to be respected but that there should be democratic endorsement for the type of Brexit we pursue. That endorsement is exactly what we got in 2017, when we put our Brexit plan – leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union – to the British people. Labour also had the same approach so fully 80 per cent of voters supported parties that committed to leaving the Single Market and Customs Union. I believe there are serious risks to our democracy if we don’t now deliver on their instructions.
2. You now say that the Commons won’t allow No Deal, and that any attempt to achieve it will provoke a disastrous general election. So what will you do as Prime Minister if you can’t get a deal agreed and ratified by October 31?
I have always said that if the only way to deliver Brexit was no deal then I would do that because the democratic damage of ignoring the referendum result would outweigh the economic risks of a no deal exit. However, parliament is extremely likely to block a no deal exit so the question is how you avoid us being presented with the same stalemate at the end of October as we have now.
I believe I have the best chance out of all the candidates of getting a better deal. I’ve been talking to European Governments for the last year so I know the people on the other side of the table; they see me as reasonable so I’m less likely to invite an ultra hard-line response from those leaders who are fighting populism in their own backyards; I have a background both as an entrepreneur and experienced Cabinet Minister in handling complex negotiations and striking deals.
3. You also say that “with the current deal, I cannot see a way forward”. This suggests not only that you aim to get a deal by October 31, but that it will be a new one. How can you achieve this in fewer than five months?
The deal with the backstop as it is does not have a future. We know that, and now the EU know it too. There is a better deal to be had but we need the right approach and leadership. We must present a team that gives them confidence we can deliver a parliamentary majority with the mandate of a newly elected Prime Minister. When you talk to European governments as I’ve done over the last year, and explain our concerns on the backstop, they appreciate they are perfectly reasonable. There are other ways of guaranteeing no border infrastructure on the Irish border, and we can make this case.
4. You also write that “we cannot consider going back to the people before we have delivered Brexit”. How can you say this when you don’t control the decision, since the Commons has the power to compel an election?
In so far as it is in any Government’s gift to avoid an early election before we have kept our promises on Brexit – we should do so. It would be a total failure, and a serious abdication, for this Government and this Parliament to willingly go back to the people before we have delivered Brexit, as both Labour and the Conservative Party pledged to do last time around.
5. You describe such an election as “political suicide”. Doesn’t it follow that you can’t be the new Conservative leader, because you’ve no confidence in your own ability to win an autumn election if one is forced on you?
This isn’t a lack of confidence but a plea for honesty. This is a leadership election for the Conservative Party, and each candidate has to set out a serious plan for how the Conservative Party survives as a fighting force to do all the things the country needs it to do. If we go back to the people before we’ve delivered Brexit, we’d lose votes to the Lib Dems on one side and the Brexit Party on the other, and this would very likely allow Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street. I’ve set out a serious plan that has a good chance of getting us out of the EU soon and by 2022, that will have done to the Brexit Party’s appeal what the 2016 referendum did to UKIP’s.
6. In YouGov’s ratings, you are the 17th most popular Conservative politician. That’s not an especially high place. Haven’t you an unpopularity legacy from your days as Health Secretary that simply won’t go away?
Politicians shouldn’t pronounce on their own popularity! But most people who have occupied the role of Health Secretary have a testing time at some point. Look at the battles Ken Clarke faced as Health Secretary, before going on to become one of the most effective and successful Chancellors of the modern era. The fact that I came through the battles I had in the Department of Health and managed to deliver some major reforms despite them shows I have the mettle to take on a difficult Prime Ministership.
7. There is a crisis of trust in the Tory Party. And you are very much part of the Party establishment – accomplished, long-serving, moderate, conventional. Are you the transformative leadership that the country needs right now?
People often confuse continuity with loyalty. Throughout my nine years in Cabinet, I’ve always been a loyal team player, but as the first Prime Minister to have been an entrepreneur, I would take a very different approach. This is an exceptionally serious moment for our country. I think many of our members, supporters and the public are looking for an experienced leader with entrepreneurial flair to help us get the deal we need and look beyond Brexit.