LONDON – British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is a soft-spoken political survivor who believes his business background can see him strike a Brexit deal if he defeats Boris Johnson to become prime minister.
The 52-year-old has branded himself as the “serious” alternative to Johnson, making unflustered progress in qualifying with the former London mayor for the final runoff to replace outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May.
In government, he oversaw the London 2012 Olympics, was Britain’s longest-serving health secretary and has proved a steady pair of hands as the U.K.’s top diplomat.
He has also survived crises when many were calling for his head.
His diagnosis for breaking the Brexit impasse is pushing hard for a reworked divorce deal with Brussels, delaying past the Oct. 31 deadline if necessary and leaving with no deal if the EU refuses to budge.
Aware of his image as a good-natured “nice guy” who is rarely ruffled — The Guardian newspaper’s political writer compares Hunt to a British Airways cabin steward — his campaign has sought to portray him as a tough negotiator and a steady option.
Along with May and Finance Minister Philip Hammond, Hunt is the only minister who has seen unbroken Cabinet service since the center-right Conservatives returned to power in 2010.
As the culture, media and sport minister, he was under intense pressure to resign in 2012 over his contacts with Rupert Murdoch during a phone-hacking scandal involving the mogul’s media empire.
However, Hunt toughed it out and the judge-led inquiry into press ethics exonerated him of bias toward Murdoch’s News Corp. in its bid to take over broadcaster BSkyB.
He was promoted to health secretary — perhaps the most thankless job in government.
A pre-Brexit 2016 poll found he had the lowest approval rating among Britain’s frontline politicians.
Hundreds of thousands of National Health Service workers went on strike in 2014 for the first time in 32 years following Hunt’s rejection of an across-the-board pay rise.
And an attempted shake-up of junior doctors’ contracts provoked strikes and a long-running row, before Hunt eventually unilaterally imposed them in July 2016.
As May’s ministers fell away, Hunt was left as one of the most senior left standing.
Under pressure once again, Hunt refused to budge from the health brief until Johnson quit the Foreign Office in July 2018 over May’s Brexit policy.
As foreign secretary, Hunt set up the Yemen peace talks.
Born on Nov. 1, 1966, Hunt is the eldest son of Adm. Nicholas Hunt, who was the fleet commander-in-chief from 1985 to 1987, one of the highest positions in the Royal Navy.
Hunt grew up in the plush town of Godalming, southwest of London, and now represents the local South West Surrey constituency in Parliament.
He was educated at Charterhouse, a prestigious private school.
Hunt went on to Oxford University, where he first became politically active as president of the Conservative Association, and was a contemporary of Johnson and David Cameron.
He graduated with a first in politics, philosophy and economics.
After university, Hunt worked as a management consultant and later an English language teacher in Japan. He now speaks fluent Japanese.
Hunt had a successful career as an entrepreneur.
He set up Hotcourses, which puts prospective students in touch with universities and colleges.
Selling his stake made him a multimillionaire.
He was elected to Parliament in 2005 and served as the Conservatives’ culture, media and sport spokesman in opposition then took over the brief as secretary of state when his party took office in 2010, taking on responsibility for the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.
He is married to Lucia, who is from China. They have a son and two daughters.
They first met via Hotcourses as she was a Warwick University student recruiter. They married within a year in 2009.
She told The Mail on Sunday newspaper that he calls her “Precious” and she calls him “Big Rice” — a translation of her grandmother’s mispronunciation of Jeremy.
“He is kind, he is always generous, he cares about his family and he is very strong,” she said.
Shortly after being made foreign secretary, he made perhaps his biggest blunder when he accidentally called his wife Japanese, on a visit to China.