No-deal Brexit is 'political suicide': Hunt

Robin MILLARD
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Hunt is among the 10 candidates vying to replace the outgoing Theresa May as Britain's prime minister

Hunt is among the 10 candidates vying to replace the outgoing Theresa May as Britain's prime minister (AFP Photo/Isabel Infantes)

London (AFP) - Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Tuesday that Britain's governing Conservative Party would be committing "political suicide" if it tried to force through a no-deal Brexit.

Hunt, who is among the 10 declared candidates vying to replace the outgoing Theresa May as Britain's prime minister, said trying to take the UK out of the EU without a deal would trigger a general election in which the Conservatives risked "extinction".

The newly-formed Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage topped last week's European Parliament elections in Britain. The pro-EU Liberal Democrats came second, with the opposition Labour Party third and the Conservatives back in fifth place.

"The results contain a simple message which we ignore at our peril: if we attempt a general election before we have delivered Brexit we will be annihilated," Hunt wrote in The Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Hunt said any prime minister who promised to leave the European Union by a specific date, without the time to renegotiate and pass a new deal, would effectively be committing to a general election because parliament would bring down the government.

"Any candidate for prime minister whose strategy leads inexorably to a general election is offering a prospectus for disaster," he wrote.

"Trying to deliver no deal through a general election is not a solution. It is political suicide."

Rival leadership candidates, including former foreign secretary Boris Johnson and former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, have said Britain must be prepared to leave the EU without a deal.

Britain is due to leave the bloc on October 31, while the next general election is not due until 2022.

Entering a post-elections EU summit in Brussels on Tuesday, May told reporters: "The best option for the UK is to leave the EU with a deal."

She said the elections had been "deeply disappointing" for the Conservatives and showed her eventual successor the importance of "actually delivering on Brexit".

- Free citizenship plan -

As the leadership race got underway, the contenders began setting out their stall with policy announcements.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said he would offer free British citizenship to three million EU nationals who resided in Britain at the time of the June 2016 referendum.

"It's the right thing to do. As PM I will guarantee EU nationals' rights and waive the fee for British citizenship. I'm ready to unite the country and ready to lead us out of the EU," he said on Twitter.

Raab launched his campaign website and a "fairness" agenda, including seeking "a fairer deal from the EU as we leave".

May will step down as Conservative leader on June 7 and stay on as prime minister until her successor is chosen -- a process that should be concluded by July 20.

Housing minister Kit Malthouse is the latest candidate to enter the leadership race.

He headed up the so-called Malthouse Compromise -- a plan by pro- and anti-Brexit Conservative MPs intended to find a way through the impasse and get a divorce deal with Brussels.

"We need to end the Brexit paralysis," he wrote in The Sun newspaper.

Meanwhile the main opposition Labour Party, which has pursued a policy dubbed "constructive ambiguity" on Brexit, hinted it could inch towards throwing its weight fully behind a second referendum.

Interior affairs spokeswoman Diane Abbott told BBC radio that Labour was "moving towards a clearer line" in the light of their European elections plunge.