Brexit: Hunt sets Sept 30 ‘no-deal deadline’

Jeremy Hunt has said he would decide by the end of September whether there is a “realistic chance” of reaching a new Brexit deal with the European Union (EU).

The Tory leadership contender said he would deliver a provisional “no-deal Brexit budget” in early September and then give the EU three weeks.

He vowed to abandon talks after that if there was no “immediate prospect” of progress and move to a no-deal footing.

His rival Boris Johnson has vowed to leave “come what may” by 31 October.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Mr Johnson said it was important to have a “hard deadline” for leaving, adding that previous no-deal preparations had “sagged back down” after exit dates were not met.

The Conservative Party’s 160,000 members will begin voting next week and Theresa May’s successor is expected to be announced on July 23.

If successful, Mr Hunt said he would “engage” with fellow EU leaders during August, and task a new negotiating team with producing an “alternative exit deal” – including ideas to solve the Irish border issue – to be published by the end of the month.

At the same time, he said preparations for no deal would continue in earnest, and all leave for civil servants at government departments would be cancelled unless he received guarantees that no-deal planning was “on time and on track”.

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said the timeline Mr Hunt was setting out was very tight – especially given the notice the government’s fiscal watchdog, the OBR, usually needs to prepare for a budget.

The foreign secretary also warned Members of Parliament (MPs) against attempting to block a no-deal Brexit, warning it could make it harder to get a new agreement by giving the EU “misplaced confidence that we’ll give ground”.

He added that detailed preparation plans for no deal were needed to make it a “credible threat” to the EU, and give the UK “leverage” in the talks.

In a direct challenge to his leadership rival, he said the chances of a no-deal Brexit were “far from” the million to one odds recently quoted by Boris Johnson, and it would not be possible to deliver it “on a wing and a prayer”.

A no-deal exit on 31 October remains the default position in UK law after MPs rejected the agreement Theresa May agreed with Brussels three times. –BBC

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