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'No-deal Brexit could be almost as bad as 2008 financial crisis', says Tory leadership contender Jeremy Hunt

A no-deal Brexit could be almost as bad as the 2008 financial crisis, Conservative leadership candidate Jeremy Hunt has conceded.

The foreign secretary said the shock of a no-deal could increase the national debt by £90 billion, and agreed with William Hague it may lead to Scotland and Northern Ireland breaking away from the United Kingdom.

Speaking to ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston, following hustings in Belfast, Mr Hunt said: "The Bank of England's predictions are that it wouldn't be quite [as bad as the financial crisis], but it could be very serious if we get this wrong."

Jeremy Hunt is up against Boris Johnson in the Tory leadership race. Credit: PA

He went on to say, despite the risks, it is still important to deliver Brexit, as it what people voted for in the 2016 referendum, in order to preserve the British democratic values revered by people around the world.

He said: "My judgement is, when I go round the world as foreign secretary, people say one of the most amazing things about your country is that you are one of the most robust democracies in the world, one of the oldest democracies.

"This is a country where we do what the people tell us, so we have to deliver Brexit. We have to make it a success and part of the way we'll make it a success first of all, preparing for a no-deal Brexit. "

Mr Hunt said he would take action which would ensure people did not become poorer as a result of the UK leaving the European Union without a deal. He suggested this could mean an emergency budget, cutting taxes for businesses to mitigate a financial shock.

Promised spending boosts for the military and education sectors would also be pushed back, he said, due to the need for greater expenditure to offset the effects of a no-deal exit.

He explained: "The promises I made for the MOD and for the education budget - they would have to wait if we had a no-deal Brexit."

He added cutting business taxes would help corporations be "more resilient in the face of a no-deal Brexit".

The Chancellor the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, has said he believes the candidates are risking blowing the party's reputation of being thrifty with taxpayers cash.

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In a wide-ranging interview, Mr Hunt said the BBC should hold a debate to which he was invited without Boris Johnson after his leadership rival declined an invitation.

Earlier on Tuesday, he tweeted it is an "absolute joke" Mr Johnson won't submit himself to media grillings until after the majority of Conservative party members have voted.

He told ITV News: "I just think what we need is to have a proper debate, a head-to-head debate, between the two people who want to be our prime minister about all these big choices.

"That's what Conservative party members want to see, that's what the country want to see and Boris' campaign team are refusing to have any of those debates or really tough media interviews until after most Conservative party members have actually voted.

"I just think that makes a mockery of the whole thing. I think the BBC should have had a bit more mojo and said we're going to have this debate."

He added he hadn't seen images of the Brexit Party turning their backs during the playing of the European Union anthem shows how divided the UK has become.

He told Robert Peston: "I don't think anyone should show disrespect to someone else's flag but I'm afraid it just shows how incredibly polarised politics had got.

"In the case of Brexit, until we deliver Brexit, we're going to see this retreating to extremes which is very bad for our country."

Mr Hunt also admitted he used to go Brazilian dancing after work to do the lambada.

He said he would head out after 10pm, following a voting session in parliament, to indulge in his passion "at least once a week".

  • Watch Jeremy Hunt's full interview