Jeremy Hunt is under fire for claiming Britain’s close “connections” with other EU countries will be crucial to the UK’s future success, despite his strong support for Brexit.
On a visit to Singapore on Wednesday, the foreign secretary will hail the UK’s “friendship with our neighbours in Europe” as a key reason to be optimistic for trade.
Speaking days after pointing to low-tax Singapore as a post-Brexit model, Mr Hunt will call for Britain to “act as an invisible chain linking together the democracies of the world”.
And he will say: “In a world where it is rarely possible for one country to achieve its ambitions alone, we have some of the best connections of any country – whether through the Commonwealth, our alliance with the United States and our friendship with our neighbours in Europe.”
But the comments were criticised as “utterly bizarre and short-sighted”, less than three months before Brexit, after Mr Hunt expressed support for crashing out of the EU with no deal if necessary.
Stephen Doughty, a Labour supporter of the anti-Brexit Best for Britain group, said “leading diplomats, military figures and former foreign secretaries” had warned Brexit would weaken the UK on the international stage.
“At a time when challenges from insecurity and extremism to Russian threats to climate change demand more not less global cooperation, Mr Hunt is leading the charge to break one of our most successful and impactful alliances – the one we have as part of the EU,” he said.
The foreign secretary is embarking on a three-day visit to Asia, beginning with a speech at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore.
At the weekend, he hailed the dynamic low-spending, low-regulation country for its transformation from a “tiny territory devoid of natural resources into the world’s eighth richest country”.
“While the circumstances of Britain’s departure from the EU are different, there could be few better instructions for us as we make our post-Brexit future,” Mr Hunt wrote in The Mail on Sunday.
The visit will see the announcement of a new UK-Singapore strategic partnership, strengthening collaboration in areas including the digital economy, security and education.
The British Council and National Arts Council will renew a memorandum of understanding, committing them to greater collaboration between Singapore and the UK.
Mr Hunt will say: “Britain is already the biggest European investor in southeast Asia, with ASEAN trade of nearly £37bn, and more than 4,000 British companies employing more than 50,000 people in Singapore alone.
“Those connections are why Britain’s post-Brexit role should be to act as an invisible chain linking together the democracies of the world, those countries which share our values and support our belief in free trade, the rule of law and open societies.”
Mr Hunt will confirm the opening of a new UK mission to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) headquarters in Jakarta, before moving on to Malaysia.