Boris Johnson was replaced in the foreign office by Jeremy Hunt on Monday evening.
Earlier in the day, Johnson became the second minister to leave the cabinet in protest to Theresa May’s new Brexit proposal, which he believes is leading to a “semi-Brexit” and a “colony of the EU.”
Hardline leave campaigners object to the idea of a common rule book between the EU and the UK on common “rule book” for industrial and agricultural goods. The main objection is that large parts of the UK’s economy will be “locked” to the EU, unable to develop the economy independently. Hunt is more likely to agree or object with what Theresa May is proposing.
Johnson’s resignation came just as May was heading in parliament; responding to questions by both opposition and Conservative MPs, May reiterated that her government is still committed to “take back control of our borders, our law and our money,” but she did not spell out the name of Johnson’s replacement. That came later.
Until Monday, Hunt was the longest-serving health secretary since the founding of the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948, securing for his department a commitment to £20bn in additional spending after a decade of austerity. He came to office under David Cameron and has remained in the same post, resisting attempts to be reshuffled.
Hunt says that his main job will be to support the prime minister’s Brexit proposal, which Johnson refused to do. During the 2016 campaign he campaigned for Remain but has since “converted” to the Leave cause, as indeed the prime minister and the Home Affairs minister.
His relationship with Theresa May is ambiguous. Hunt considered running against her for the party’s leadership in 2016, on a ticket of a “full-Norway” deal. He changed his mind and adjusted his views to fit the circumstances.
Hunt has now turned into a loyal Brexiteer who recently criticized Airbus; the pan-European consortium is one of many industrial conglomerates that have expressed dismay at the breaking of pan-European value chains. Hunt did not go as far as using Johnson’s “f…ck business” vocabulary. He did, however, consider the company’s warning that it would leave the UK as “completely inappropriate.”
Neither Johnson nor Hunt had anything to say about the breaking up of pan-European value chains developed over the course of the last 40 years. May believes her new proposal addresses the criticism; Jeremy Hunt will stand by the new policy line, just as he stood by David Cameron in his Remain policy line.
The question is whether he has anything more than respect for authority. Jeremy Hunt will be invited to imbue with some significance the so far empty slogan of a “global Britain.” The UK’s main Brexit narrative for the future is that the island will unchain itself from Europe, seeking instead growth in emerging economies outside the EU. Boris Johnson failed to give any substantive detail for this vision. All eyes are now on Hunt, who will, in turn, be looking to Theresa May for guidance.