Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt.
Ed Davey, The Independent
For Liberal Democrats, the political choice between the hard Brexit menus offered by Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt might seem about as tempting as arsenic verses strychnine.
Some might believe Hunt’s offer is less poisonous, but for British business the choice is still between Johnson’s decidedly strange strategy or Hunt’s willingness to close small businesses down, all for the sheer deranged machismo of Brexit. And you know what? I’m starting to wonder if Hunt might indeed be the worse choice.
Certainly Hunt is the most catastrophically disastrous foreign secretary since, well, the last one. Alas, despite their appalling apprenticeships, one of these two men will be hired as our prime minister. The kindling is sparking under Hong Kong. China’s draconian communist government clamps down on civil rights and contemptuously tells Britain to suck up the fact that it is ripping up the agreement that handed over the then colony in 1997. So what is our foreign secretary doing? Spamming Twitter with news of how he is enjoying fish and chips in Scotland and cream teas in Devon, while campaigning for the Tory leadership.
Statecraft? Its scarcely even cake craft. Before the handover, my political hero Paddy Ashdown led a campaign to guarantee citizenship to Hong Kong people holding British nationality overseas passports, should China break its promise to give Hong Kong a “high degree of autonomy” and uphold “rights and freedoms”. Shamefully, Britain rejected the pleas of the then Liberal Democrat leader. Canada, incidentally, was more generous, and its thriving community of Hong Kong expats has contributed huge amounts to Canadian life.
So where now is the bold offer from Britain to show solidarity with current victims of oppression, and to put pressure on China? Where’s the offer of sanctuary to students in Hong Kong who now face a worrying future? Where is the top-level engagement? It’s not just that Hunt has failed to act – he scarcely seems troubled by the crisis. One suspects he betrays a greater sense of consternation while attempting the quick crossword.
And this is the problem with Hunt. All that seems to really animate him is the chance of becoming prime minister. He will avoid saying anything that might deny him his great prize. He knows Brexit will be a disaster and that the chancellor is right to warn it will cost each household £3,300 a year – or, to put it another way, more than our police and schools combined.
Yet still Hunt peddles Brexit fantasies to woo Tory members, even offering a vast bung to farmers that would break the rules of the very World Trade Organisation that Brexiteers hope to fall back on after a no-deal Brexit. Hunt isn’t stupid, so this makes his crassness all the less forgivable. When he compares the EU to a Soviet prison, you know that he knows some of the stuff that went on in the gulags. “Foreign secretary,” you feel compelled to ask, “do your principles really mean so little to you? You were better than that, weren’t you?” If Conservative members suddenly had a Damascene conversion over Europe, he would surely start calling Brussels the promised land and denouncing Nigel Farage as an enemy of the people.
My one comfort about Johnson is that if he has spent a very long time promising one thing, there is a fairly high probability he will do the opposite.
Therefore, don’t rule out Boris from pulling off the most spectacular rubber-burning U-turn and belatedly backing calls for a Final Say on the Brexit deal negotiated by Theresa May. Less comfortingly, he is just as likely to attempt a coup d’etat by proroguing parliament to force through no deal. If there is rain in Hong Kong, it must be the tears of Paddy looking down at the troubles he foretold. This I know: the agents of the Chinese police state and the agents of Brexit are the enemies of Liberalism. Hunt has chosen his side.
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