Tory leadership hopeful Jeremy Hunt has sparked fury after repeating his belief that the abortion limit should be halved to 12 weeks.
The Foreign Secretary was asked on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday whether he stuck to previous comments made in 2012 saying he supported the move.
‘These are matters of conscience, yes, my view hasn’t changed on that,’ he said. ‘I respect the fact other people have very different views and that’s why these matters are matters for free votes in the House of Commons.’
Mr Hunt was asked on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday whether he stuck to previous comments made in 2012 saying he supported cutting the legal abortion limit
Critics called Mr Hunt’s comments ‘alarming’ – although he insisted he would not try to force the change if he became PM
On whether he would seek to change the policy if he was PM, Mr Hunt said ‘it won’t be Government policy to change the law’ or to have a vote on it.
Nonetheless, critics called his comments ‘alarming’.
Labour MP Jess Phillips said: ‘Did this one say he was a feminist, it’s hard to keep up with whose on drugs and who pretends to care about women.
‘Jeremy Hunt how about we base this stuff on evidence and science and keep what you think is best based on no experience out of this.’
Layla Moran, Lib Dem spokesman for education, also spoke out against Mr Hunt.
‘One step forward two steps back,’ she tweeted. ‘The fight is never over for progressive politics. And this, from the man who used to be in charge of the NHS.’
The Foreign Secretary had six meetings with Mr Trump this week during his state visit when he made it clear the NHS would not be included in any deal with the US after Brexit.
‘I don’t think Donald Trump is the world’s biggest expert on the NHS but what he is an expert on is trade deals,’ he said. ‘I told him the NHS could not be part of a trade deal.’
Asked if Mr Trump was a ‘good President’, he replied that he was ‘a strong President’, saying he disagreed with him on issues like climate change and the Iran nuclear deal.
But he said ‘there are other things where I think we can learn’ from the US, citing its faster economic growth than the UK and calling Mr Trump ‘an effective communicator’.
Mr Hunt said the Tory leadership contest should be about picking ‘the leader most likely to get us a deal’.
He said he has set up his own business and has ‘negotiated big deals in Government’, citing the junior doctors’ contract while he was Health Secretary and the BBC licence fee when he was Culture Secretary.
‘I have that experience and if we can get a deal, that is the only way we can avoid a general election,’ he added.
‘If we repeat going to the country on a national scale we will see what happening at Peterborough on a national scale – the centre-right vote split and Labour coming through the middle.’
President Trump greets Mr Hunt ahead of the National Commemorative Event commemorating the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion on June 5 in Portsmouth
Mr Hunt also used the interview to reveal that Angela Merkel told him the European Union (EU) ‘would be willing to negotiate’ on the Brexit deal with a new Prime Minister.
He claimed the German Chancellor said Brussels ‘would look at any solutions’ the UK puts forward to solve the Northern Irish border issue as he tried to emphasise his credentials as a deal-maker in the race to replace Theresa May.
Mr Hunt said he is the right man for the job and, in a thinly-veiled criticism of his rival Boris Johnson, said an ‘ultra hard-line approach’ would be met by ‘an ultra hard-line response’.
Asked if Mr Johnson, his predecessor at the Foreign Office, had done a good job, he said he had made ‘a very big impact on the British position in the world because he led the Brexit campaign’.
But he said he was ‘quite a Marmite character’ and hinted that some other EU foreign ministers ‘found him difficult to work with’.
Mr Hunt said any deal with the EU needs to have the support of Parliament, suggesting he would include in his negotiating team the DUP, representatives of the Eurosceptic caucus the ERG, as well as Scottish and Welsh Conservatives.
On whether he was confident of renegotiating the Withdrawal Agreement, he said: ‘If you’re asking me as someone who has done deals all their life ‘is there a deal here?’, yes, there is.
‘Finding that deal is going to mean approaching the EU with the right kind of person. If we go in with an ultra hard-line approach, we will get an ultra hard-line response.
‘Then we’ll get to the end of October and nothing will have changed expect we’ll be one step closer to a general election.’
Asked what he would do differently, he said the controversial ‘back-stop’ written into the current Withdrawal Agreement is ‘not acceptable to Parliament’ and he would back a new system ‘based around technology’.
Mr Trump with the Queen, Melania Trump, Prince Charles and Camilla during the state banquet at Buckingham Palace on June 3
Ms Ridge said it was unlikely any such system would be ready by October 31 and pressed the Cabinet minister on whether he would be prepared to delay Brexit or leave without a deal on that date.
He said: ‘If the only way to leave the EU was without a deal, then I would do that because we have to honour that referendum result.
‘But I would do so with a heavy heart, because of that risk to business and indeed to the union. I wouldn’t do so if there is a prospect of a good deal.’
When it was suggested he has flip-flopped on Brexit, having voted remain in 2016, but now backs leaving, he rejected the idea by saying ‘my position has been completely consistent’.
What do the candidates for the Tory leadership think about Brexit?
The Conservative leadership race is ramping up ahead of nominations opening on Monday as the contenders continue to declare their credentials for the top job.
Here are the runners and riders:
– Boris Johnson
The former foreign secretary, who played a key role in the Vote Leave campaign at the 2016 referendum, is widely seen as the front-runner.
On Brexit, he has committed to keeping the October 31 deadline even if that means leaving without a deal and said he would step up no-deal preparations.
He also said he would refuse to pay the promised £39 billion to the European Union unless better Brexit terms are on offer.
Key quote: ‘I truly believe only I can steer the country between the Scylla and Charybdis of Corbyn and Farage and on to calmer water.’
What he’s said about drugs: Confessed to trying cocaine and smoking cannabis as a teenager at Oxford in a magazine interview in 2007.
Backers: James Brokenshire, Gavin Williamson, Steve Baker.
– Jeremy Hunt
The Foreign Secretary has ruled nothing out on Brexit, but insists that his experience as a negotiator in both business and politics means he could go to Brussels and secure a better deal.
He has said he would keep a no-deal Brexit on the table, but warned it could be ‘political suicide’ for the Conservatives as Parliament would force a general election.
He has called for a big increase in defence spending after Britain leaves the EU to counter rising global threats and has suggested slashing corporation tax to Irish levels of 12.5% to attract investment.
Key quote: ‘We will absolutely be obliterated in an election if we haven’t delivered Brexit.’
What he’s said about drugs: Told The Times he had a ‘cannabis lassi’, a yoghurt-based drink, when he was backpacking through India in his youth.
Backers: Liam Fox, Greg Hands, Mark Field.
– Dominic Raab
The former Brexit secretary has set out an uncompromising approach in a bid to appeal to hardline Eurosceptics.
He wants Brussels to ditch the Irish backstop as part of a new agreement, but if the EU will not move on the issue, he will walk away without a deal on October 31 – and has not ruled out suspending Parliament to ensure that MPs cannot block the UK’s exit.
He also wants to toughen up community sentences and has promised a shake-up of maternity care.
Key quote: ‘We need to up our game, which means being less naive, and being absolutely resolute about our intention and our resolve to leave on October 31. It seems to me that I’m the only candidate in this race that is clear about that.’
What he’s said about drugs: Has admitted taking cannabis as a student.
Backers: David Davis, Nadhim Zahawi, Maria Miller.
– Michael Gove
The Environment Secretary, who scuppered Mr Johnson’s last leadership bid in 2016, is again positioning himself in opposition to the front-runner.
Unlike Mr Johnson, he has not ruled out seeking a further delay to Brexit – possibly for months beyond October 31 – if a deal is in reach, and warned pursuing a no-deal scenario could lead to a general election in which Jeremy Corbyn could enter Number 10.
He has set out a ‘pro-business economic plan’ to take on Mr Corbyn’s ‘Marxist message’ and said he would replace VAT after Brexit with a ‘lower, simpler’ sales tax.
Key quote: ‘If I am prime minister of this country I want to ensure it’s the best place in the world to live, learn, raise a family, achieve your potential, and start and run a business.’
What he’s said about drugs: Said he ‘deeply regrets’ taking cocaine ‘on several occasions’ two decades ago.
Backers: Mel Stride, Nicky Morgan, Ed Vaizey.
– Rory Stewart
The International Development Secretary has travelled around the country filming himself chatting to voters in a bid to raise his profile in the race.
A Remainer who now accepts the referendum vote, he has ruled out a no-deal Brexit and would establish a citizens’ assembly to thrash out a new Brexit compromise.
He has also pledged to protect the Conservatives’ ‘reputation for economic competence’, hitting out at the ‘unfunded spending commitments’ made by rivals.
Key quote: ‘Candidates that are advocating a no-deal Brexit as well as tax cuts will – in one afternoon in October – lose us a reputation that we have spent 300 years building up.’
What he’s said about drugs: Has apologised for smoking opium at a wedding in Iran.
Backers: David Gauke, Ken Clarke, Nicholas Soames.
– Sajid Javid
The Home Secretary hopes to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement to remove the Irish backstop but does not want a delay beyond October 31.
He has set out a plan to tackle the Irish border issue by spending hundreds of millions on a technological solution, saying the UK has a moral duty to pay for measures at the border in an effort to secure a breakthrough.
Mr Javid has put forward a number of policy proposals, including cutting the top rate of income tax and establishing a £100 billion fund to invest in the UK’s infrastructure.
Key quote: ‘We will not beat the Brexit Party by becoming the Brexit Party.’
What he’s said about drugs: Has denied ever taking drugs.
Backers: Ruth Davidson, Jeremy Wright, Chris Skidmore.
– Matt Hancock
The Health Secretary insists a no-deal Brexit is not a credible option and Parliament would never allow it.
He has set out a Brexit delivery plan to leave by October 31, including establishing an Irish border council, made up of UK and Irish officials, to prevent the return of a hard border and time-limiting the backstop.
He has also pledged to scrap business rates for small retailers and increase a tax on internet companies to ‘level the playing field’ for high streets, and has set out his vision for a foreign policy that boosts trade and ‘resists protectionism’, while also promising to ‘uphold our values’.
Key quote: ‘If in order to deliver Brexit we were to change who we are as a country we would have failed.’
What he’s said about drugs: Is understood to have tried cannabis as a student but has not used drugs since university.
Backers: Damian Green, Tracey Crouch, Caroline Spelman.
– Andrea Leadsom
The former leader of the Commons, who ran against Mrs May for the party leadership in 2016, was another prominent member of the Vote Leave campaign.
She has set out a plan to scrap the Withdrawal Agreement and instead ‘massively ramp up’ preparations for a ‘managed’ exit without a full deal.
Mrs Leadsom has also promised to tackle climate change at home and abroad and establish a cross-party commission to find a solution to funding social care, and has warned that bold tax-cutting pledges could easily be blocked by Parliament.
Key quote: ‘I truly believe in the bright future that awaits us once we leave the EU. And I think I have the best plan that I’ve seen for delivering a managed exit.’
What she’s said about drugs: Told the Independent that she ‘smoked weed at university and have never smoked it again since’.
Backers: Chris Heaton-Harris, Heather Wheeler, Derek Thomas
– Sam Gyimah
As the only contender open to a second referendum, the former universities minister is widely seen as a rank outsider.
His five-point plan would give MPs a ‘final chance’ to get a Brexit deal through Parliament while also preparing for a referendum if that failed.
The public would be offered a binding choice between a no-deal Brexit, a revised deal or remaining in the EU.
Key quote: ‘The world won’t wait for Westminster, no matter how loudly we shout, and no matter how damaging a prolonged Brexit process is for Britain.’
What he’s said about drugs: Has denied taking any drugs.
Backers: Dominic Grieve, Guto Bebb, Phillip Lee
– Esther McVey
The committed Brexiteer has said she would fill her Cabinet with fellow believers.
She has called for the Tories to ’embrace’ a no-deal Brexit in order to make sure the UK leaves on October 31.
Elsewhere, she has caused controversy with comments championing the right of parents to take their children out of lessons on same-sex relationships.
Key quote: ‘I think you need to have people who believe in Brexit to deliver this by October 31.’
What she’s said about drugs: A spokesman told The Telegraph she ‘has never taken cocaine and never would’.
Backers: Pauline Latham, Phillip Davies, Andrew Lewer
– Mark Harper
A former Conservative chief whip and Remain supporter who now accepts the referendum result, Mr Harper acknowledges he is an underdog in the leadership race.
He has called for a ‘short, focused’ extension to allow for the deal to be renegotiated but said he would be prepared to leave with no deal if that is not possible.
He has claimed sticking to an undeliverable October 31 exit date could risk making Nigel Farage even stronger.
Key quote: ‘I know what people want to hear but I am not going to tell people what they want to hear if I don’t think it is credible.’
What he’s said about drugs: Has denied taking any drugs.
Backers: William Wragg, Jackie Doyle-Price, Scott Mann.