Jeremy Hunt calls for second referendum in leadership bid

Health Secretary wants vote on Norway-style single market membership as he considers throwing hat in ring

Jeremy Hunt
Jeremy Hunt has been dubbed the ‘great survivor’ of the Tory government
(Image credit: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has raised the prospect of a second referendum on EU membership - and says he is "seriously considering" standing to be the next Conservative leader.

Hunt, who said in April that the health brief would probably be his "last big job in politics", told ITV's Good Morning Britain that he might run for the leadership a few hours after advocating a second EU vote in the Daily Telegraph.

In the article, which is being seen as his first pitch for David Cameron's job, the politician suggests the UK could negotiate a Norway-style deal, making it a member of the European single market and creating a "sensible compromise on free movement rules".

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This "Norway plus" model would have to be voted on by the British people – either via a second referendum or through a general election - and this should happen before the UK formally quits the EU, he adds.

However, the Health Secretary subtly backed away from the idea of a second referendum on Good Morning Britain, saying only that there should be "some democratic endorsement of the terms" of the new deal.

Hunt made a tacit pitch to lead the party at the end of the Telegraph article and called for it to unite after a "bruising battle on the referendum".

He concludes: "This is a time to remember our heritage as the party of one nation Benjamin Disraeli."

However, he remains an outside bet for the job, with a new poll for The Times suggesting Theresa May is the voters' favourite. William Hill is offering odds of only 20/1 on Hunt becoming next prime minister.

Cutting down the possibilities, George Osborne today ruled himself out of the race. The Chancellor said he did not see himself as "the person to provide the unity my party needs" in an article in today's Times.

Boris Johnson remains the bookies' favourite at odds of 6/5.

Brexit: Why a second EU referendum is unlikely

27 June

Thursday's victory for the Leave campaign in the EU referendum seems to have taken both sides of the debate by surprise. Now some prominent voices are calling for a second ballot on the issue, but experts say it won't happen.

A couple of senior politicians have suggested that the result should be re-evaluated, and Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has promised to fight the next election on a pledge to take the UK back into the EU.

Lord Heseltine, a cabinet minister under both Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher, yesterday called for a cross-party group of MPs to "articulate the case for Britain rethinking the result of the referendum", while David Lammy, the MP for Tottenham and a minister under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, is actively calling for a second ballot. Writing in The Guardian, he said the result was "advisory and non-binding" and called for a second ballot "at the very least".

An online petition has also shown substantial public demand for a second referendum. Leave campaigner Oliver Healey started the petition before the referendum vote took place. Thinking Remain might win, he demanded a second vote if the majority was less than ten per cent on a turnout of less than 75 per cent.

To Healey's evident chagrin, the petition is now the most signed in the Parliament website's five-year history of online petitions. It had 3,683,934 signatures at midday today - four and a half times as many as the next biggest.

But speaking to the Daily Telegraph yesterday, Professor John Curtice, one of the only psephologists to correctly predict last year's general election result, dismissed the idea of a second ballot.

Curtice said: "How many people voted in favour of Leave? Seventeen million. One million is chicken feed by comparison." Twenty four hours later, the poll looks set to pass the four million mark.

Another expert told BBC News this morning that a second referendum was "constitutionally possible but politically unthinkable". Any prime minister who agreed to another ballot would be seen to undermine the democratic will of the British people.

According to the Financial Times's Philip Stephens, the only way Brexit might be stopped now would be for a political party to win a general election after pledging to take the UK back into the EU – just as the Lib Dem leader has now done.

But the Liberal Democrats would have a mountain to climb to win – and with Labour "widely regarded as unelectable" under Jeremy Corbyn, says Stephens, it would be a "huge leap" to imagine anyone but the Tories winning the next general election.

There is another reason politicians may want to avoid a second vote: the first campaign caused disastrous internal division within both the Conservatives and Labour party. For that reason alone, "nobody is going to want to campaign prominently on this", says Curtice.

That said, there is a lot of uncertainty in the air, says the Washington Post. "Any new deal with the EU will have to pass Parliament. Some in Westminster are saying that it should probably be put to referendum again. If that happens, it may well be the last chance for Remain to have their voice heard."

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