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Jeremy Hunt's Brexit confusion

The British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has been regularly mentioned as a possible successor to Theresa May if, as widely predicted, she leaves Downing Street at some stage in 2019.

He has kept a high profile in recent months, and was back in the headlines yesterday by calling on the EU to provide further assurances on the backstop arrangements over the border in Ireland if Mrs May's Brexit plan is to survive the forthcoming Westminster vote.

The huge problem for Mr Hunt is that, in common with many other prominent Conservative figures, he expects to be taken seriously while switching his position on key Brexit issues with bewildering frequency.

Mr Hunt was a strong supporter of the Remain campaign in the 2016 EU poll, and immediately responded to the narrow victory for his Leave opponents by suggesting that another vote on the departure terms should follow.

Then, in 2017, he announced that he had changed sides over Brexit because of what he regarded as `the arrogance of the EU Commission' during negotiations, and, earlier this year, said that, despite his previous assertions, he also now opposed a second referendum.

His criticism of the backstop yesterday raised further eyebrows as he was a member of the cabinet which endorsed the same measure 12 months previously.

The assurance that an open border would be maintained on the island of Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit was agreed not only by the UK but, it will be recalled, by all of the other 27 EU member states.

It is difficult to see how the rest of Europe could examine Mr Hunt's range of pronouncements on basic Brexit questions and identify any form of consistency, while his backstop proposal is almost entirely lacking in credibility.

In normal circumstances, the foreign secretary's contradictions would be ruthlessly exploited in the House of Commons by the leader of the opposition.

Unfortunately, Jeremy Corbyn has consistently managed to give the impression that he is just as confused as Mr Hunt over the backstop and the case for a second referendum.

There will still be some grounds for hope that when Mrs May's motion fails, as seems largely inevitable, rational voices in both Labour and the Conservatives can combine to produce a scheme which facilitates a sensible relationship with the EU.

However, it must also be accepted that the Irish government will continue to have a crucial role to play in monitoring all Brexit developments for the foreseeable future.

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