Monday 26 September 2016

Jeremy Hunt 'seriously considering' Tory leadership bid

Published 28/06/2016 | 08:54

Britain's Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt arrives for a cabinet meeting in Downing Street in central London, Britain June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
Britain's Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt arrives for a cabinet meeting in Downing Street in central London, Britain June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Jeremy Hunt said he is "seriously considering" a bid for the Conservative leadership as he called for the public to be given a say on Britain's terms for leaving the European Union.

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The Health Secretary, who campaigned for a Remain vote, said he wanted to see the UK secure continued access to the European single market but with "sensible restrictions" on freedom of movement.

Any deal should be put to a public vote in a fresh referendum or in a Tory manifesto at a future general election, he said.

Nominations for the race to succeed David Cameron open on Wednesday when backbenchers meet to approve the timetable for the contest - which is due to produce a new prime minister by September 2.

Whoever ends up in Number 10 will begin extracting the UK from the bloc, after Mr Cameron said he would not initiate the process before handing over the reins despite pressure from Brussels for a swift departure.

Mr Hunt's declaration of a possible run came as Chancellor George Osborne ruled himself out, saying it was clear he could not provide the unity the party needed.

Polling for The Times meanwhile suggested Theresa May has overtaken Boris Johnson as Tories' favourite.

Mr Hunt, who previously said he expected the health brief to be his "last big job in politics", rejected suggestions that the new leader had to come from the pro-Brexit camp.

"They are not going to choose someone who does not accept the verdict of the British people," he told the ITV morning show.

"But I think now we've got to move beyond that argument. We are leaving the EU and we have got to have a discussion about the kind of country we want to be.

"What I am making the argument for is what I call the 'Norway-plus' model. Norway is a member of the single market, they have full access to the world's largest single market. They get all the jobs and prosperity and we need that as a great trading nation. But what we need is something else, which is a sensible restriction on the free movement rules which have created the immigration that has worried a lot of people."

Asked if he would pit himself against rivals such as Mr Johnson and Mrs May, he said: "I am seriously considering it.

"But what I want to do now is start making an argument as to what we do next as a country. This is a big, big change and if we get it right we can succeed.

"Every MP has a little corner of that in their heart. The corner has been growing."

Mr Hunt said there did not necessarily have to be a second referendum but that there should be "some democratic endorsement of the terms" that could include making the deal part of a Conservative general election manifesto.

The Home Secretary and former London mayor are among leading figures who are expected to spend the day drumming up support for potential leadership bids ahead of nominations opening on Wednesday.

But a surge in support for Mrs May has seen her leap ahead of the bookies' favourite to win the contest to replace Mr Cameron, research for The Times found.

The Cabinet minister is favoured by 31% of Conservative voters against 24% for Mr Johnson, according to the YouGov poll.

Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb and Business Secretary Sajid Javid are reportedly considering standing on a joint ticket.

Others who are considering throwing their hat into the ring include Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and former frontbencher Liam Fox, while Brexit campaigners Andrea Leadsom and Priti Patel are expected to stand, according to reports.

Mr Osborne told The Times that the EU referendum had left him a divisive figure.

He said: "It isn't in my nature to do things by half-measure and I fought the referendum campaign with everything I've got. I believed in this cause and fought hard for it.

"So it is clear that while I completely accept the result, I am not the person to provide the unity my party needs."

Press Association

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