There’s a 50-50 chance of what Jeremy Hunt has described as a “messy” no-deal Brexit, according to one European government minister who met the Foreign Secretary this week.
Hunt, who backed Remain in the referendum campaign, warned yesterday that a cliff edge Brexit would be a “mistake we would regret for generations.”
Although, after coming under fire from Brexit supporters, today he has stressed that he went on to say that the UK would “eventually find a way to prosper and thrive.”
He made the comments during a tour of four European capitals – Helsinki, Riga, Copenhagen and Amsterdam – in a bid to win support for a favourable Brexit deal.
During the trip Hunt was asked to put a percentage chance on the possibility of a no deal Brexit but refused, saying “rather than speculating on exact percentages, let’s work hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
But two of the ministers he met this week were willing to do so – and both put the chances of the UK avoiding a ‘no deal’ Brexit at a pessimistic 50-50.
Danish finance minister Kristian Jensen gave his verdict on the likely outcome of negotiations today in an interview with BBC Radio 4.
“I also believe 50/50 is a good assessment because time is running out and we need to move really fast if we’re going to strike a deal which is positive both for the UK and EU,” he said.
“So, every force who wants this to be a good deal needs to put in some effort in the months to come, otherwise I’m afraid time will run out.”
His comments echoed the pessimistic prediction of Latvian foreign minister Edgars Rinkēvičs, who met Mr Hunt earlier in the week.
Speaking to the same programme on Wednesday, he said there was a “very considerable risk” of a cliff-edge Brexit and said: “Frankly at this point, I would rate it 50-50.”
The deadline for a Brexit deal is currently October’s European Council although there is open talk of the possibility of an extension to talks or even the Brexit process.
Negotiations are continuing today, although not at the highest level.
Neither EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier nor Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab are attending the latest round of negotiations in Brussels.
Instead it has been left to senior civil servants from the two sides to hold “technical level” talks on the Irish border issue and the future relationship – including Theresa May’s ‘Chequers plan’.
The British side believe that Barnier and his team are being inflexible over proposals to maintain a ‘single market in goods’ as well as the current level of security cooperation.
Speaking on his visit to Helsinki this week, Hunt said the risk of a ‘no deal’ Brexit is “increasing” and said: “We do need to see a change in approach by the European Commission.”
Asked today whether Denmark would push the EU to be more flexible, Jensen said: “I do believe the EU should be flexible. But I have no reason to criticise Barnier. He’s doing what he’s been asked to do by the EU27.
“We need to have a deal and Denmark is one of the countries that has always been close to the UK economically, in defence and foreign affairs so we want a deal as good and as solid as possible.”