Tory leadership contender Jeremy Hunt hits out at ‘complacency’ over the Union

Jeremy Hunt
Jeremy Hunt

Tory leadership contender Jeremy Hunt has said the UK Government has become “complacent” over the health of the Union.

The foreign secretary, who is due to speak at a hustings in Perth on Friday, told supporters that if he were to win the race to Downing Street he would “put a lot of time and thought into nourishing the bonds of our Union”.

Mr Hunt said: “I happen to believe that the Union is something we have taken for granted for too long.

“When I think about the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, I believe we were complacent in the run-up to that referendum.

“We had a nasty scare during that campaign when it looked like it was getting very close.

“But I think we’ve also been complacent after it and I think it’s absolutely essential that the prime minister of the United Kingdom puts a lot of time and thought into nourishing the bonds of our Union.

“Some of that is through symbolic things like coming here frequently, but it is also through the approach you take to policies.”

He added: “I think Brexit, if we get it right, can massively strengthen our Union.

“It will allow our great country to plough its furrow in the world in a way that is distinctly and uniquely British and makes all four parts of the UK proud to be British.”

The comments came after rival Boris Johnson pledged to create a “Union unit” in Number 10, with the task of overseeing all areas of policy to ensure they are compatible with devolution.

Mr Johnson, who has the backing of four north-east Tory MPs, has also pledged to alter the prime minister’s official job title to specifically include responsibility for the Union.

The former London mayor, who was appearing at hustings alongside Mr Hunt in Belfast yesterday, said: “I want to champion the Union by being not only the Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service, but also Minister for the Union.

“There would be a special unit in Number 10 to make sure that every policy is sense and stress tested for the benefits that it would bring to the Union.”

Mr Johnson added that he still backs a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland, but said it was something for the Northern Irish Executive to take forward.

“Finance is not the issue,” he said.

The candidates also used the hustings to register their disdain for the Northern Ireland backstop.

The backstop is an insurance policy designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland by keeping the UK in a customs union.

Eurosceptic MPs are unhappy that the mechanism could potentially keep the UK tied to the EU if it was ever needed.

Mr Johnson said: “It is a terrible moral blackmail it puts on the UK Government. We can’t have that.

“The way to protect the Union is to come out the EU whole and entire.”