Britain's Hunt says pursuing no-deal Brexit "political suicide"


By Alistair Smout

LONDON, May 28 (Reuters) - British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said it would be "political suicide" to pursue a no-deal Brexit through a general election, adding he would look for more time to secure a new Brexit deal if he replaced Prime Minister Theresa May.

Hunt pitched himself against other leading candidates to replace May, saying that a promise to leave the European Union by a specific date with or without a deal would be blocked by lawmakers who oppose no-deal and trigger a national election.

"Trying to deliver no deal through a general election is not a solution; it is political suicide," Hunt wrote in Tuesday's Daily Telegraph.

"A different deal is, therefore, the only solution – and what I will pursue if I am leader."

Hunt is among ten Conservative lawmakers who have so far put themselves forward to replace May as party leader and prime minister.

Frontrunner Boris Johnson has said that Britain should leave "deal or no-deal" on October 31, while Kit Malthouse, an outsider for the role, said no-deal was not his preferred outcome but Britain should be prepared for it.

Although Hunt voted to remain in the European Union in the 2016 Brexit referendum, he says he now believes in Brexit.

"I have always believed that no deal is better than no Brexit, but parliament has passed laws to stop a government willingly walking into no deal," he said.

Instead of pursuing no-deal, Hunt said he would look for a different deal to the agreement negotiated by May, which failed to get approval three times from British lawmakers.

He said that he would seek to take Britain out of the customs union while "respecting legitimate concerns" around the Irish border.

May's deal foundered on the controversial Irish border "backstop" which could see the province linked indefinitely to the bloc, angering May's Unionist allies in Northern Ireland and Brexit supporters who want a decisive split from the EU.

Hunt said that the EU did not want Brexit hanging over them and so could be open to renegotiation of the backstop.

"The last thing they want is to make a concession to what they see as Britain’s populist movement," Hunt said of the EU.

"But that does not rule out a reasonable and statesmanlike request to change the backstop for a different set of guarantees on the Irish border."

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Guy Faulconbridge)

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