Jeremy Richard Streynsham Hunt (born 1 November 1966) is a British Conservative Party politician who has been Member of Parliament (MP) for South West Surrey since 2005 and served in the Cabinet from 2010 to 2019. He identifies as a one-nation conservative, and has been associated with both economically liberal and socially liberal policies. Hunt was a candidate for Leader of the Conservative Party, and thus Prime Minister, in the 2019 leadership contest and finished as runner-up to Boris Johnson.
The son of a senior officer in the Royal Navy, Hunt was born in Kennington and studied Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was President of the Oxford University Conservative Association. He was first elected to the House of Commons in 2005, and was promoted to the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Minister for Disabled People and later as Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Hunt served in the Cameron Government as Culture Secretary and Minister for the Olympics from 2010 to 2012, where he spearheaded the drive for local TV, resulting in Ofcom awarding local TV broadcasting licences to several cities and towns. Hunt also oversaw the 2012 London Olympics, which received widespread acclaim.
He served as Health Secretary from 2012 until 2018. As Health and Social Care Secretary, he oversaw the imposition of a controversial new junior doctors' contract in England after the failure of negotiations. During the dispute, junior doctors undertook multiple strikes, the first such industrial action for forty years. Hunt was re-appointed Health Secretary in the May Government; and was appointed to the additional portfolio of social care in England in January 2018. On 3 June 2018, Hunt became the longest-serving Health Secretary in British political history. The following month, he was appointed Foreign Secretary, following the resignation of Boris Johnson over the Chequers Agreement. He resigned following Johnson's election as Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister on 24 July 2019.
Early life and education
Jeremy Hunt was born in Lambeth Hospital, Kennington, the eldest son of Admiral Sir Nicholas Hunt, who was then a Commander in the Royal Navy assigned to work for the Director of Naval Plans inside the recently created Ministry of Defence, and his wife Meriel Eve née Givan (now Lady Hunt), daughter of Major Henry Cooke Givan. The Hunt family were landed gentry, of Boreatton, Baschurch, Shropshire. A cousin was Agnes Hunt, pioneer of orthopaedic nursing. Through a paternal great-grandmother, Hunt is a descendant of Sir Streynsham Master, a pioneer of the East India Company.
Hunt was educated at Charterhouse where he was Head of School. He then read Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Magdalen College, Oxford, and took a first class honours Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree. He became involved in Conservative politics while at university, where David Cameron and Boris Johnson were contemporaries. He was active in the Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA), and was elected to serve as President in 1987. In addition to these activities, Hunt was a member of the infamous Bullingdon Club.
After university Hunt worked for two years as a management consultant at OC&C Strategy Consultants, and then became an English language teacher in Japan.
On his return to Britain he tried his hand at a number of different entrepreneurial business ventures, with three failed start-ups including an attempt to export marmalade to Japan. In 1991, Hunt co-founded a public relations agency named Profile PR specialising in IT with Mike Elms, a childhood friend. Hunt and Elms later sold their interest in Profile PR to concentrate on directory publishing.
Hunt had been interested in creating a 'guide to help people who want to study rather than just travel abroad' and, together with Elms, founded a company known as Hotcourses in the 1990s, a major client of which is the British Council. Hunt stood down as director of the company in 2009; however, he still retained 48% of the shares in the company, which were held in a blind trust before Hotcourses was sold in January 2017 for over £30 million to Australian education organisation IDP Education. He personally gained over £14 million from the sale and in doing so became the richest Cabinet member.
Member of Parliament
Hunt was elected at the 2005 general election, after the previous Conservative MP Virginia Bottomley was created a life peeress. He was elected to represent the constituency of South West Surrey with a majority of 5,711.
After supporting David Cameron's bid for leadership of the Conservative Party, he was appointed Shadow Minister for Disabled People in December 2005. In the same year, he was a co-author of a policy pamphlet Direct Democracy: An Agenda For A New Model Party which included statements supporting denationalising the NHS and suggested replacing it with "universal insurance". Hunt later denied that the policy pamphlet expresses his views. In David Cameron's reshuffle of 2 July 2007, Hunt joined the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. When the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats formed a coalition following the 2010 general election, Hunt was appointed Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (combining the roles of leading the Department for Culture, Media and Sport with that of Minister for the Olympics). He was consequently appointed a Privy Councillor on 13 May 2010. He has been characterised as a "metropolitan liberal" by the Financial Times and he campaigned to remain in the 2016 EU referendum.
In 2009, Hunt was investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. The commissioner found: "Mr Hunt was in breach of the rules in not reducing his claims on the Additional Costs Allowance in that period to take full account of his agent's living costs. As a result, public funds provided a benefit to the constituency agent ... Mr Hunt received no real financial benefit from the arrangement and that the error was caused by his misinterpretation of the rules."
Hunt's offer to repay half the money (£9,558.50) was accepted. Hunt repaid £1,996 for claiming the expenses of his Farnham home while claiming the mortgage of his Hammersmith home. The commissioner said: "Mr Hunt has readily accepted that he was in error, and in breach of the rules of the House, in making a claim for utilities and other services on his Farnham home in the period during which it was still his main home. He has repaid the sum claimed, £1,996, in full. It is clear that, as a new Member in May 2005, his office arrangements were at best disorganised." The Legg Report showed no other issues.
Views on Brexit
Hunt supported Britain remaining in the European Union (EU) in the 2016 referendum. After the result which supported Brexit was announced, Hunt suggested a second referendum on the terms of any exit deal with him personally backing one in which the UK would stay in the Single Market. In 2017 he stated that he had changed his mind, and now supported Brexit, citing the "arrogance of the EU Commission" in responding to the UK government in the Brexit negotiations.
In July 2018, Hunt expressed fears over the UK potentially leaving the EU without a deal. He said that it would be "incredibly challenging economically" and that "It would lead to a fissure in relations which would be highly damaging for that great partnership that we have had for so many years, which has been so important in sustaining the international order." In a December 2018 interview with the Daily Telegraph, he suggested the UK would "flourish and prosper" even without a deal, although he continued to back the Brexit withdrawal agreement proposed by Theresa May. In March 2019 he stated that a "lot more work" was needed to get MPs to back May's deal but there were "encouraging signs" that progress was being made.
Culture Secretary (2010–2012)
In September 2010, The Observer reported "raised eyebrows" when Hunt's former parliamentary assistant, Naomi Gummer, was given a job within the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on a fixed-term civil service contract after Hunt had proposed departmental cuts of 35–50 per cent. The head of the Public and Commercial Services Union questioned Hunt's motives saying, "Political independence of the civil service is a fundamental part of our democracy and we would be deeply concerned if this was being put at risk by nepotism and privilege." Gummer is the daughter of a Conservative life peer, Lord Chadlington, who was a director of Hotcourses between 2000 and 2004.
As Culture Secretary, Hunt devised and championed a plan to give Britain the fastest broadband speeds in Europe. There was initial scepticism about his plans with concerns they could lead to BT regaining its monopoly. While speeds did increase when he was in office this was, in the main, due to customers switching to different packages. He also spearheaded the drive for local TV and as a result of this policy Ofcom awarded local television licences to Belfast, Birmingham, Brighton & Hove, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Grimsby, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, Plymouth, Preston, Sheffield, Southampton, and Swansea. In terms of culture policy, his main focus was to boost philanthropy given the spending cuts that the arts along with other sectors was experiencing. Changes were made to the inheritance tax - including measures to encourage private gifts to the arts.
During Hunt's tenure, competition and policy issues relating to media and telecommunications became the responsibility of the Culture Secretary; they were removed from the purview of the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, after Cable was recorded stating that he had "declared war" on Rupert Murdoch.
News Corporation attempted takeover of BSkyB and Leveson Inquiry
Hunt was consequently given the quasi-judicial power to adjudicate over the News Corporation takeover bid for BSkyB. Hunt chose not to refer the deal to the Competition Commission, announcing on 3 March 2011 that he intended to accept a series of undertakings given by News Corporation, paving the way for the deal to be approved. Following a series of scandals concerning phone hacking, a House of Commons motion was planned that called on News Corporation to abandon the bid. The bid was eventually dropped. Hunt was alleged to have had improper contact with News Corp. Emails released to the Leveson Inquiry detailed contacts between Hunt's special advisor Adam Smith and Frédéric Michel, News Corp's director of public affairs and therefore a lobbyist for James Murdoch. The revelations led to calls from the Labour opposition and others for Hunt's resignation. Smith, Hunt's special adviser, resigned on 25 April shortly before Hunt made an emergency parliamentary statement in which he said that Smith's contact with Michel was "clearly not appropriate". Hunt said Lord Justice Leveson should be able to investigate and rule on the accusations and requested the earliest date possible to give evidence to the Inquiry to set out his side of the story.
Hunt appeared before the Leveson inquiry on 31 May 2012, when it emerged that Hunt had himself been in text and private email contact with James Murdoch. Journalist Iain Martin claimed that at a 2010 event held at UCL which Murdoch attended he saw Hunt hide behind a tree to avoid being seen by journalists: "I wandered back into the party and ran into one of the organisers. The Culture Secretary is out there hiding behind a tree, I said. We know, came the response, but he doesn’t want to come in because all the media correspondents are here." Hunt later told the Leveson Inquiry that "I thought, this is not the time to have an impromptu interview, so I moved to a different part of the quadrangle...there may or may not have been trees!"
Lord Justice Leveson cleared Hunt of bias when the report was published, stating that "in some respects, there was much to commend in Mr Hunt's handling of the bid". He concluded: "What was not evident from the close consideration of events which the Inquiry undertook was any credible evidence of actual bias on the part of Mr Hunt. Whatever he had said, both publicly and in private, about News Corp or the Murdochs, as soon as he was given the responsibility for dealing with the bid the evidence demonstrates a real desire on his part to get it right. His actions as a decision maker were frequently adverse to News Corp's interests. He showed a willingness to follow Ofcom's advice and to take action, to the extent recommended by the regulators, in response to the consultation."
In June 2010, Hunt attracted controversy for suggesting football hooliganism played a part in the death of 96 football fans in the Hillsborough disaster; when it has been established that a lack of police control and the presence of terraces and perimeter fences were the causes of the tragedy. Margaret Aspinall, chairman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, said of Hunt's comments: "I am very angry that he has shown such ignorance of the facts. He is an absolute disgrace." Hunt later apologised saying: "I know that fan unrest played no part in the terrible events of April 1989 and I apologise to Liverpool fans and the families of those killed and injured in the Hillsborough disaster if my comments caused any offence."
In April 2012, the Daily Telegraph disclosed that Hunt had reduced his tax bill by over £100,000 by receiving dividends from Hotcourses in the form of property which was promptly leased back to the company. The dividend in specie was paid just before a 10% rise in dividend tax and Hunt was not required to pay stamp duty on the property.
London 2012 Olympics
As Culture Secretary, Hunt was the government minister responsible for the London Olympics and Paralympics. When it transpired that contractors G4S could not provide enough security staff for the Games, Hunt announced that soldiers would be drafted in and that he had been forced to "think again" about the default use of private contractors. Hunt took the decision to double the budget for the Danny Boyle-directed opening ceremony which received acclaim, and overall the Games were considered a huge success internationally. According to Danny Boyle, the Artistic Director for the opening ceremony, the government initially suggested removing the section of the opening ceremony about the NHS, although Hunt denied this.
The Games received widespread acclaim for their organisation, with the volunteers, the British military and public enthusiasm praised particularly highly. In the aftermath, Hunt set up the school games as an Olympic Legacy project. Although there was criticism at the time of cuts in the school sports budget, 11,953 schools took part in the School Games in the first year. Hunt also campaigned to increase the emphasis on the importance of the tourism industry, especially the potential of the Chinese tourist market.
Health Secretary (2012–2018)
Hunt was appointed Health Secretary in a cabinet reshuffle on 4 September 2012, succeeding Andrew Lansley. In an attempt to better understand the NHS he shadowed workers, which eventually established his keystone policy: patient safety. Hunt had previously co-authored a book calling for the NHS "to be replaced by a new system of health provision in which people would pay money into personal health accounts, which they could then use to shop around for care from public and private providers. Those who could not afford to save enough would be funded by the state."
The Daily Telegraph science correspondent Tom Chivers expressed concern in 2012 that Hunt was known to have supported homoeopathy. In 2014 Hunt asked the Chief Medical Officer to initiate expert reviews of three homoeopathic studies carried out by Boiron, a French manufacturer of homoeopathic products. Later that year, Hunt denied personally being a supporter, and blamed his inexperience as a new MP for previously signing a pro-homeopathy early day motion. However, he did support NHS funding for it if recommended by a doctor.
In 2012, Hunt said that he was in favour of reducing the abortion limit from 24 weeks to 12 weeks. In 2013, he said that the regional variations in premature deaths throughout the United Kingdom were shocking.
In 2013, he also announced plans to charge foreign nationals for using the NHS, claiming that the cost was up to £200 million though official figures put it at £33 million. However, £21 million of that £33 million was already recovered, putting the actual cost at £12 million – less than Hunt's crackdown could cost.
It was reported in December 2013 that Hunt was personally telephoning the Chairs of NHS hospital trusts where targets in Accident and Emergency Departments (A & E) had been missed, a course of action which was described as "crazy" by David Prior, chairman of the Care Quality Commission. Prior, a former Conservative MP, said that whilst Hunt, like his Labour predecessors, took responsibility, the result was money being diverted from primary and community care to A & E. However, Dr Clifford Mann, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, blamed the problems on the Health and Social Care Act 2012 for causing "decision-making paralysis" and leaving the country short of around 375 emergency doctors.
In March 2014, Hunt announced that the government would not give a recommended 1% pay rise to NHS non-medical staff receiving progression pay (around 55% of total non-medical staff). Later that year, he declared that patient choice was not key to improving NHS performance, in a major break from a policy favoured by Conservative and Labour governments over the previous 12 years. He stated that "there are natural monopolies in healthcare, where patient choice is never going to drive change". Following a pre-election report in April 2015 that hospital chiefs shared an average 6% pay rise totalling £35 million, Hunt promised to investigate if the Conservatives won the election.
In July 2015, Hunt became the subject of the first petition on a new UK Government website to reach the threshold of 100,000 signatures required for a petition to be considered for debate in Parliament. The petition called for a debate on a vote of "No Confidence" in Hunt as Health Secretary, and ultimately recorded 222,991 signatures leading to a debate on the motion being scheduled in September 2015. However, the Petitions Committee does not have the power to initiate a vote of no confidence, the committee instead debated the contracts and conditions of the NHS staff.
In 2015, an undercover Daily Telegraph investigation showed that in some cases locum agencies, Medicare and Team24 owned by Capita were charging some hospitals higher fees than others and giving false company details. The agencies were charging up to 49% of the fee. Hunt criticised those who sought "big profits" at the expense of the NHS and taxpayers and promised to "reduce the margins rip-off agencies are able to generate."
Hunt again drew condemnation from medical professionals when it was reported in January 2016 he had suggested that parents should go online to look at photos of rashes if worried that a child may have meningitis. Specific disapproval was drawn to the fact that a rash caused by deadly meningitis can look very similar to other conditions, as well as professionals pointing out the time-critical nature of meningitis. The charity Meningitis Now said his advice was "potentially fatal".
In May 2016, a report by the House of Commons public accounts committee criticised Hunt's plan for a seven-day NHS, saying "no coherent attempt" had made to understand staffing needs, the plan was "completely uncosted", and contained "serious flaws". In the same year, Hunt called for a reduction in the number of foreign doctors working in the NHS after the UK left the EU. At the Conservative Party Conference later in the month, Hunt pledged that by 2025, the NHS would be "self-sufficient in doctors". He announced an increase of up to 1,500 extra places at medical schools in the UK in 2018, with it being partly funded by an increase in international medical student fees. Hunt also stated UK medical students would be forced to work in the NHS for at least four years or have to repay the cost of their training, around £220,000.
In January 2018, Hunt apologised to patients in England affected by the decision to postpone tens of thousands of operations. Hunt made his comment as reports emerged of patients having to wait a long time to be treated, with ambulances left queuing outside A&E departments.
In February 2018, Hunt attracted attention after defending the universal coverage provided by the NHS against US President Donald Trump, saying "I may disagree with claims made on that march but not ONE of them wants to live in a system where 28m people have no cover. NHS may have challenges but I'm proud to be from the country that invented universal coverage – where all get care no matter the size of their bank balance".
In March 2018, Hunt informed NHS trusts that they would not be required to meet waiting time targets for A&E patients in the following year. The decision was criticised by the Patients Association and National Voices.
NHS weekend cover
In July 2015, Hunt indicated that he would be prepared to impose a new consultant contract on doctors in England which would remove the opt out for non-emergency work at weekends. He stated this was to prevent "about 6,000 avoidable deaths" resulting from a "Monday to Friday culture" in some areas of the NHS and to reintroduce "a sense of vocation" in consultants. The comments angered many doctors who responded by sharing photographs of themselves working at the weekends via social media using the hashtag #ImInWorkJeremy. It emerged in February 2016 that the "6,000 avoidable deaths" figure was based on Hunt's own understanding of an unpublished, unreviewed study by Freemantle et al. that he had access to before its publication in September 2015. The latter had been denied by NHS England's Freedom of Information Officer in October 2015. At the time NHS England also asked one of the authors to corroborate Hunt's figures who refused to do so, stating that it would interfere with the peer review of the unpublished paper; in response they reframed the figure as being based on earlier studies on its website in August 2015.
In October 2015, Hunt was accused by the editor of The BMJ Fiona Godlee of repeatedly misrepresenting a study published in the journal in the same year by Freemantle et al. on the weekend effect to parliament and the public. He had used the study as key evidence when stating in parliament and in interviews with the media that reduced staffing levels of doctors at weekends directly led to 11,000 excess deaths. Godlee asserted that the study's authors did not specify that the excess deaths were avoidable or that staffing levels were the cause. The lead author of the study Nick Freemantle, when asked about the study in February 2016, stated that they did not identify a cause for the excess deaths or establish the extent to which they were avoidable. Co-author NHS Medical Director Sir Bruce Keogh in response to Hunt's comments in October also stated "It is not possible to ascertain the extent to which these excess deaths may be preventable".
Hunt was also criticised for the fact that his claims about hospitals being more unsafe at weekends not merely misrepresented the facts but had potentially caused patients to delay going into hospitals and thus put them at risk. His critics described the Hunt Effect where patients who needed medical attention at a weekend had been deterred from doing so because they were persuaded that it would be better to wait until a Monday. Statisticians Professor David Spiegelhalter and David Craven, Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, Heidi Alexander, the shadow health secretary also denounced Hunt for making misleading statements about weekend hospital treatment after his assertion in parliament in the same month that "currently, across all key specialties, in only 10% of our hospitals are patients seen by a consultant within 14 hours of being admitted at the weekend." Speigelhalter stated that the data from NHS England showed that on average 79% of patients are seen within 14 hours by a consultant across all specialities and that this data is collected for the whole week so it would be flawed to state figures for the weekend as Hunt did. NHS England confirmed that it would not be possible to separate weekend and weekday performance from the data.
In January 2016, Hunt was criticised by top stroke doctors for using out-of-date data to try to show that stroke patients are more likely to die if they are admitted at weekends. They wrote that there had been significant improvements since 2004–12, when the data Hunt had referenced came from, and that new data showed there was "no longer any excess of hospital deaths in patients with stroke admitted at the weekend." Stroke specialist David Curtis said even the outdated statistics did not support Hunt's claims.
In February 2016, a mid-January internal report by the Department of Health was leaked. It stated the department was unable to find evidence to prove a link between increased consultant presence, availability of diagnostic tests, and reducing weekend mortality and length of stay. It also highlighted that the seven-day NHS could cost an additional £900 million each year, required the recruitment of 11,000 more staff including 4,000 doctors and 3,000 nurses, and that community and social services could struggle to handle more discharges at the weekend.
In May 2016, another study also concluded there was no evidence that people were more likely to die in hospitals at the weekend. In August, internal risk management documents produced by civil servants in the Department of Health in July were leaked. They described 13 major risks in delivering the "truly seven-day NHS" pledge promised by the Conservative party prior to the 2015 general election. These included a lack of staff and funding for the policy. The documents also discussed that no advance impact assessments had been made to show how the policy would affect the delivery of NHS services. Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, the organisation that represents NHS services in England described the seven-day NHS plan as "impossible to deliver" due to a lack of funding and staffing. He also highlighted pressures on the NHS with 80% of acute hospitals in England in financial deficit compared to 5% in 2013 and an increase of missed A&E waiting time targets from 10% to 90% in the same time period. Upon his retirement from politics, he hopes to champion NHS reform: "to do for patient safety what Al Gore has done for climate change".
Junior doctors' contracts
In September 2015, the Department of Health announced that they would impose new contracts for junior doctors in England after the British Medical Association (BMA), a professional association and trade union representing doctors said that they would not re-enter negotiations, despite the independent Doctors' and Dentists' remuneration review body recommending the deal. The new contracts would extend "normal hours", for which doctors would not be paid a premium, from 7 am to 7 pm Mondays to Fridays to 7 am to 10 pm on every day except Sunday while increasing their basic pay in a move that Hunt said would be cost neutral. In response the BMA balloted its members for industrial action, the first since the 1970s. They argued that the contract would include an increase in working hours with a relative pay cut of up to 40%, and refused to re-enter negotiations unless Hunt dropped his threat to impose a new contract and extensive preconditions, which he had refused to do. Many junior doctors said they would leave the NHS if the contract was forced through.
Hunt later tried to reassure the BMA that no junior doctor would face a pay cut, before admitting that those who worked longer than 56 hours a week would face a fall in pay. Hunt said that working these long hours was unsafe.
In November 2015, Hunt said he would offer a basic pay increase of 11%, but still removing compensation for longer hours. In response, the BMA junior doctors committee chair, Johann Malawana, requested further details of the offer and said that "The increase in basic pay would be offset by changes to pay for unsocial hours, devaluing the vital work junior doctors do at evenings and weekends."
In February 2016, Hunt announced he would be unilaterally imposing the new junior doctors' contract without agreement or further negotiation, with NHS trusts instructed to introduce it in August. This followed David Dalton, the chief negotiator for the government and NHS Employers, reporting that junior doctors contract negotiations had ceased after his final offer to the BMA had been declined. The decision to impose angered many junior doctors, with some indicating that they would quit the NHS. Hunt acknowledged this by saying that there would be "considerable dismay", and also announced an urgent inquiry led by the chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges Susan Bailey into junior doctors' morale and welfare. The Academy Trainee Doctors' Group (representatives for junior doctors from different royal colleges) voted unanimously not to participate in the review under the offered terms.
Junior doctors' strikes
On 19 November 2015, the result of the BMA strike ballot was announced, with 99.4% in favour of industrial action short of a strike, and 98% voting for full strike action on a turnout of 76%. After the results were announced, the BMA council chair Mark Porter appealed to the health secretary to resume negotiations facilitated by Acas. More than a week later, Hunt agreed to discussions overseen by Acas and withdrew his threat to impose a new contract without agreement, and the first day of strike action was called off hours before it was due to start, which was too late to avoid some disruption.
An agreement was not reached by the junior doctors committee (JDC) 4 January 2016 deadline, so the BMA announced that a strike would go ahead, blaming "the government's continued failure to address junior doctors' concerns about the need for robust contractual safeguards on safe working, and proper recognition for those working unsocial hours." The first day of strike action was in January 2016 and involved junior doctors only providing emergency care. This was the first junior doctors' strike for forty years. Hunt said it was "unnecessary", that patients could be put at risk, and that many junior doctors had "ignored" the strike call and worked anyway, but the BMA responded that many junior doctors were in work maintaining emergency care as planned. A second day of strike action occurred on 10 February where doctors again provided only emergency care. In February 2016, he was polled as the "most disliked" frontline British politician.
In response to Hunt's announcement in February of the imposition of the new junior doctors' contract, the BMA announced three 48-hour long strikes where junior doctors would only provide emergency care. They also issued a legal challenge over the contract. Further talks after the strikes resulted in an agreement, to be put to a referendum. Hunt said he had lessons to learn, but continued to deny any personal responsibility for the dispute. The July referendum was open to BMA members who were junior doctors or medical students in the final two years of their degree. 58% of voters rejected the offer, with a 68% turnout. Following this, Malawana resigned, and Hunt rejected holding any further talks with the BMA and announced the imposition of the new contract on junior doctors starting from October.
In the lead up to his imposition of the contract, Hunt had repeatedly stated publicly and in Parliament his intention to do so. Even when challenged, he reiterated this intent and also confirmed that he had the power to do so. This matter was challenged in the High Court by a group of doctors, "Justice for Health". In order to successfully defend the case against him, lawyers acting on his behalf conceded that he did not actually have the power to impose the contract, and asserted that Hunt was not to be held accountable for things he had said in Parliament. They also argued the High Court did not have the authority to rule over whether he had misled Parliament.
In 2012, Hunt attempted to downgrade casualty and maternity units in Lewisham. Hunt stated that the cuts were necessary because neighbouring South London Healthcare NHS Trust had been losing more than £1m every week. But a campaign led by GP Dr Louise Irvine defeated Hunt in court in 2012 on this issue, with the judge ruling that Hunt acted outside his powers when he announced casualty and maternity units at Lewisham Hospital would be downgraded.
In July 2016 a cross-party committee of MP's ascertained that Hunt had 'broken his pledges on NHS funding and is misleading the public about health service reforms'. Specifically, it found that 'contrary to government claims to be injecting an extra £8.4bn into the NHS on top of inflation by 2020/21, the real figure was more likely to be £4.5bn'. The committee claimed the 'Government has used a different definition of spending to calculate the figures which made it appear that a larger increase in spending had occurred than was actually they case'.
In October 2016 Hunt was pressed on the issue of NHS funding by the Health Select Committee. Specifically, on the fact that in the previous November Hunt promised the NHS would receive an extra £10 billion a year above inflation, in the five years to 2020. But when questioned he conceded that in the accounts offered for spending had been stretched to include the previous year. This would therefore act to misleadingly inflate the spending figure by £1.5bn, according to a recent report. When challenged by the Health Select Committee, Hunt admitted "This amount of cash is being handed to the NHS... over the six years." He confirmed the period "includes the spending review period and an extra year". It is this use of an 'extra year' in the accounts which added further fuel to the claim that Hunt has knowingly misled the public on public health funding.
During 2017, Stephen Hawking publicly criticised Hunt's management of the NHS and supported legal action against further reforms, including accountable care organisations (ACOs). At a Royal Society of Medicine speech, Hawking accused Hunt of using studies that were not properly peer reviewed, and ignoring other papers. In January 2018, Hawking won a case to take Hunt to court for alleged "back door privatisation of the NHS".
In April 2018, The Daily Telegraph revealed that Hunt breached anti-money laundering legislation by failing to declare his 50 per cent interest in a property firm to Companies House within the required 28 days. Hunt also failed to disclose his interest in the property firm on the Parliamentary Register of Members’ interests within the required 28 days. Hunt later rectified the error. A spokesman for Hunt said that Hunt's "accountant made an error in the Companies House filing, which was a genuine oversight." In response, a spokesman for Downing Street agreed with the Cabinet Office that there was no breach of the ministerial code. The Labour Party referred Hunt to the parliamentary commissioner for standards. The Guardian revealed that Hunt was able to buy seven luxury flats at Alexandra Wharf, Southampton, with the help of a bulk discount from property developer and Conservative donor Nicholas James Roach.
Foreign Secretary (2018–2019)
Hunt was appointed Foreign Secretary in July 2018 following the resignation of Boris Johnson. Hunt said "My principal job at a time of massive importance for our country is to stand four square behind the Prime Minister so that we can get through an agreement with the European Union based on what was agreed by the Cabinet last week at Chequers."
Hunt has supported the Saudi Arabian-led military intervention in Yemen and described Saudi Arabia as a "very, very important military ally". In August 2018, Hunt defended Britain's alliance with Saudi Arabia after a bomb dropped on a school bus in Yemen killed 51 people, including 40 children, although he said he was "deeply shocked" at the deaths.
In July 2018, Hunt visited China and met China’s foreign minister Wang Yi. Hunt said that the "UK-China Strategic Dialogue is an important opportunity to intensify our cooperation on shared challenges in international affairs, ranging from global free trade to non-proliferation and environmental challenges, under the UK-China Global Partnership and 'Golden Era' for UK-China relations".
During the September 2018 Conservative conference, Hunt likened the European Union to the former USSR, saying: "It was the Soviet Union that stopped people leaving. The lesson from history is clear: If you turn the EU club into a prison, the desire to get out won’t diminish." This comment was strongly criticised.
In October 2018, Hunt criticised the Xinjiang re-education camps and human rights abuses against the Uyghur Muslim minority in China, saying: "British diplomats who visited Xinjiang have confirmed that reports of mass internment camps for Uighur Muslims were 'broadly true'."
Amid global outrage over the murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Hunt rejected calls to end the UK's arms sales to Saudi Arabia, saying: "There are jobs in the UK ... at stake so when it comes to the issue of arms sales we have our procedures."
In November 2018, Hunt threatened the United Arab Emirates with "serious diplomatic consequences" after it sentenced British research student Matthew Hedges to life in prison for allegedly spying for the UK. Hunt said that the verdict "is not what we expect from a friend and trusted partner of the United Kingdom and runs contrary to earlier assurances". Hedges was released at the end of November, after intense negotiations.
In February 2019, whilst on a Brexit related visit to Ljubljana, Hunt caused anger by congratulating his hosts on "making really remarkable transformation from a Soviet vassal state to a modern European democracy." In fact Slovenia, as part of Yugoslavia, had previously been non-aligned.
In February 2019, Hunt urged Germany to lift ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which has been waging the war on Yemen since March 2015, and warned that Germans are risking "a loss of confidence in Germany’s credibility as a partner", though he also admitted: "Over 80,000 children [in Yemen] have died of starvation, there are about a quarter of a million people starving at the moment, and around 20 million people don't have food security – they don't know whether they’re going to be able to get the food they need in the days ahead." Andrew Smith, of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), said that Hunt "played an utterly central and complicit role in arming and supporting the Saudi-led destruction of Yemen."
In April 2019, Hunt condemned the United States for recognising Israel's 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights, saying: "We should never recognise the annexation of territory by force. (...) We want Israel to be a success and we consider them to be a great friend but on this we do not agree."
Leadership campaign (2019)
Hunt announced his campaign to become the leader of the Conservative Party on 3 May 2019, following the resignation of Prime Minister Theresa May. On 20 June 2019, he was named one of the final two candidates. Hunt was defeated by Boris Johnson, having secured only one third of the vote.
Following Boris Johnson's election victory, Hunt was offered a different role to Foreign Secretary in Johnson's Cabinet but had decided to turn it down. He said on Twitter: "I would have been honoured to carry on my work at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office but understand the need for a new Prime Minister to choose his team. Boris Johnson kindly offered me another role but after 9 years in Cabinet and over 300 cabinet meetings now is the time to return to the backbenches from where the Prime Minister will have my full support."
In October 2019 he founded Patient Safety Watch, a charity which seeks to establish data to report on patient safety and harm in care, continuing the work on safety he started as Health Secretary. He chairs the organisation and said he planned to invest considerable sums of money into it.
Hunt's wife, Lucia Guo (Chinese: Guō Gē 郭歌), comes from Xi'an in China. Hunt first met Guo in 2008 when she was working at Warwick University recruiting Chinese students for the university. Hunt is 11 years older than Guo. They married in July 2009 and have a son and two daughters.
Hunt speaks Japanese, having studied the language for two years while working in Japan as an English language teacher in the 1990s.
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