EU nations realise no-deal Brexit would be mistake, UK’s Hunt says

UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he’s worried that talks with the European Union may not yield a deal on Brexit, but that more EU nations are now realising how much of a “mistake” that would be.

Speaking at a joint press conference with his Latvian counterpart Edgars Rinkevics in Riga on Wednesday, Hunt said there would be a “significant short-term impact” on financial markets in the event of a no-deal Brexit, though he argued Britain’s economy would “find a way to thrive and be successful".

“What I’m much more worried about in that situation is the geo-strategic impact on the relationship between Britain and its friends in Europe,” he said.

The pound has been weakening amid warnings from senior ministers that the UK risks crashing out of the bloc without an agreement, with Theresa May’s government running out of time to avoid the legal chaos that would entail. There’s been little progress in talks since December, especially on the biggest obstacle to an agreement: preventing a hard border with Ireland after Brexit. Rinkevics put the chances of negotiations failing at “50:50”.

Hunt acknowledged that the remaining 27 nations of the EU need to adopt a united stance in talks, but called for a “position of pragmatism and partnership” with the UK He referenced Russian aggression in the region and the poisoning of a former Russian spy with a nerve agent in England in March - a theme intended to resonate in Latvia and other eastern European nations.

‘Generations to heal’

“To do anything to threaten that partnership would be a huge geo-strategic mistake, it would take generations to heal and we don’t think that would be in the interests of any European country that is inside or outside the EU,” he said.

In addition to negotiating a deal that would satisfy the European Commission and the 27 remaining EU governments, May is also struggling to keep both the pro- and anti-Brexit wings of her Conservative Party happy.

Hunt said the government would withstand a no-deal Brexit, though he also warned Britain was entering a “choppy and difficult period".

“Lots of people have underestimated Theresa May’s resilience and determination, I’d encourage you not to do that,” he said. “This is someone who is an extraordinary, strong, determined leader, who wants to get the right deal for Great Britain.”

Hunt, a former health secretary, also said Britain’s National Health Service would “fall over” without EU citizens. There are 20 000 nurses and 10 000 doctors from the bloc in the NHS, he said. “We want them to stay.”

* Sign up to Fin24's top news in your inbox: SUBSCRIBE TO FIN24 NEWSLETTER