POLITICS
25/04/2019 17:02 BST

Next Tory Leader Must 'Believe In Brexit', Says Ex-Remainer Jeremy Hunt

Asked if he will stand to replace May, the foreign secretary said "wait and see".

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has refused to rule himself out as a candidate to be next Tory leader. 

Asked directly if he would run to replace Theresa May if she stands down, the cabinet minister replied “wait and see”.  

Hunt, who stepped into the role when Boris Johnson resigned over Brexit, said the next PM must be someone who “believes in Brexit”. 

While the former health secretary voted Remain in 2016, he has signalled his leadership ambitions by aligning himself with Conservative members and taking a strongly pro-Leave stance. 

Speaking to journalists in central London on Thursday, he said the next leader should support Brexit “as I do” even if they failed to vote Leave in the past. 

Other politicians seen as candidates are Home Secretary Sajid Javid, ex-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd. 

“It’s got to be someone who believes in Brexit, because that is the fundamental mission of the government at the moment,” he said. 

“You have to be someone who believes, as I do ... actually to be honest I think all the people who are touted to be leadership contenders do ... that we can make an extraordinary success of our post-EU future.” 

Hunt, who refused to apologise for comparing the EU with the Soviet Union in his 2018 Tory conference speech, said the government must deliver Brexit before calling a general election. 

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He said: “If there was a binary choice between no-deal and no Brexit, I would choose no-deal, because I think the democratic risk of no Brexit ultimately is higher than the economic risk of no-deal, but the reality is that this parliament won’t allow no-deal and I personally don’t think we should go back to the country and try to get a different parliament until we have left the EU.” 

Eurosceptics furious that May delayed Brexit and entered into compromise talks with Jeremy Corbyn have made renewed calls for the PM to resign. 

Under Tory rules, however, she cannot be toppled until December - one year after she won a confidence vote in her leadership. 

It comes amid claims a minister with ambitions for the leadership leaked information from the national security council that the Chinese company Huawei will be allowed to supply 5G telecoms equipment in the UK.

Hunt strongly denied he was responsible saying it was “utterly appalling” and a “really, really bad thing for decision making in the government”. 

“I do think it is a very bad day for our democratic processes when something like that happens,” he said. 

Asked to reflect on his time as the UK’s longest-serving health secretary, he admitted he did not handle “every aspect” of the junior doctors’ contract dispute “well”. 

Hunt repeatedly clashed with junior doctors on social media. 

 “It [the strike] went on as long as the miners’ strike, it was a very long time,” he said. “Probably my biggest failure in the handling of that dispute was my inability to communicate with junior doctors themselves, particularly over social media.”