Hunt says UK would ‘flourish and prosper’ even without Brexit deal

Cabinet tensions over the prospect of a no deal Brexit look set to heighten after Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt insisted the UK would “flourish and prosper” even without an exit agreement.

Mr Hunt has also said he wanted a “crack” at succeeding Theresa May after the Prime Minister takes the country through what he described as “this challenging next few months”.

The comments came after Mrs May made it clear she would step down before the scheduled 2022 general election as she fought off a backbench bid to topple her last week.

Mr Hunt’s upbeat remarks on a no deal scenario – saying the UK had faced much bigger challenges in its history – put him at odds with Cabinet colleagues like Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd who have warned about the impact of failing to secure an agreement.

The Foreign Secretary told The Sunday Telegraph: “I’ve always thought that even in a no-deal situation this is a great country, we’ll find a way to flourish and prosper. We’ve faced much bigger challenges in our history.

“But we shouldn’t pretend that there wouldn’t be disruption, there wouldn’t be risk, and there wouldn’t be impact and that’s why as a responsible Government we have to make all the preparations necessary.”

Asked if he would like to become PM, Mr Hunt said: “I think every MP has a corner of their heart that says they would like to have a crack at the top job. I’m no different.

“But I think the first thing is to get us through this challenging next few months and I passionately believe Theresa May is the right person to do that.”

Ms Rudd has called for a cross party consensus on EU withdrawal after saying that Brexit “is in danger of getting stuck”.

She said people should “ignore siren voices calling us to the rocks of no deal”.

As Brexit continued to dominate politics, Mrs May launched a stinging attack on Labour former prime minister Tony Blair for “undermining” EU withdrawal negotiations by calling for a People’s Vote.

The PM said: “For Tony Blair to go to Brussels and seek to undermine our negotiations by advocating for a second referendum is an insult to the office he once held and the people he once served.

“We cannot, as he would, abdicate responsibility for this decision.

“Parliament has a democratic duty to deliver what the British people voted for.”

The outspoken attack on Mr Blair came amid reports two of the Prime Minister’s most senior allies are making preparations for a possible referendum on the final terms of the deal.

Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, Mrs May’s defacto deputy, has met Labour MPs to discuss a cross-party consensus on the idea of a new vote, according to the Sunday Times.

The newspaper also claimed that Mrs May’s chief of staff, Gavin Barwell was supportive of the idea.

A particularly bruising week for the PM saw her appeals for the EU to be more flexible on backstop proposals for the Irish border to be largely rebuffed at a summit of European leaders.

The backstop, aimed at preventing the return of a hard border in Ireland, would see the UK remain under EU customs rules if no wider trade agreement had been struck by the end of an implementation period.