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Puzzled by Brexit brawls? It’s democracy at work: Jeremy Hunt

Contortions in the UK over Brexit have evoked a range of reactions in Europe, India and elsewhere – from laughter to puzzlement to bewilderment and worse – but foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt insists the British have not taken leave of their senses.

world Updated: Mar 30, 2019 16:40 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
UK,Brexit,World news
Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt(REUTERS FILE PHOTO)

Contortions in the UK over Brexit have evoked a range of reactions in Europe, India and elsewhere – from laughter to puzzlement to bewilderment and worse – but foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt insists the British have not taken leave of their senses.

Brexit was supposed to happen at 11pm on March 29, but the time/date came and went by, with little signs of the deadlock in Westminster anywhere near resolve. Ask anyone in London what lies ahead, and the answer invariably is: “I don’t know”.

Speak to European and non-European diplomats based in London and you get an array of responses. One baffled diplomat defines Brexit as the UK’s attempt to recover the egg from an omelette, while another from a south Asian country simply doesn’t want to talk about it.

Hunt acknowledges the range of emotions: “I suspect old friends are shaking puzzled heads. The clash and thunder over Brexit is not an appealing spectacle. Some may feel that British politicians are acting out Monty Python sketches in real life”.

But, he wrote in a signed piece in the Washington Post: “Please put aside the doom-laden commentary and accept my assurance: We British are neither abandoning our neighbours nor retreating from the world. We have not taken leave of our senses”.

According to him, the ongoing debates and votes in the House of Commons can be exasperating, but that is also its job, where the government must fight for every vote on the crucial issue of the UK’s place in Europe.

The withdrawal package reached by the Theresa May government with Brussels has now been voted down thrice, besides the treasury benches losing several Brexit-related motions and amendments in recent weeks and months.

Hunt writes: “If we lose sometimes, that too is democracy. For all the pressure it puts me under personally, I take pride in answering to a parliament that is impossible to suborn. In some countries, disputes of this kind might spill violently onto the streets. In Britain, our national debate on Brexit has been contained within our democratic institutions”.

“We have been through worse - the repeal of the Corn Laws, for instance, poisoned British politics for a generation after 1846. We have also shown resilience in the most supreme of tests – maintaining parliamentary democracy and removing a respected prime minister even as the country fought for its life during World War II. Having survived such tests, British institutions will overcome this one too”.

Hunt would not agree that London’s stature in international relations has dwindled, as some think-tanks and others averred in recent studies.

“Look beneath the surface and Britain’s international position remains unchanged. The United Kingdom is a small archipelago, with rather less than 1% of the world’s population. Alongside the United States we have done more to shape the world we live in than any other country and remain in the global top five of most important leagues”, he wrote.

First Published: Mar 30, 2019 15:27 IST