Jeremy Hunt’s ‘secret weapon’, his Chinese wife and ‘perfect partner’ Lucia, was front and centre yesterday as her husband launched his bid to become Prime Minister.
Mrs Hunt, born Lucia Guo in Xian, central China, was seen embracing supporters including Amber Rudd before taking her position right in front of her partner as he gave slick presentation at the event in Westminster.
But Foreign Office Minister Mark Field, who is backing Mr Hunt, raised eyebrows by greeting her with an enthusiastic kiss on the lips.
Last month Mr Hunt described his Chinese-born wife as his ‘secret weapon’ and the ‘perfect Foreign Secretary’s wife’ after she joined him on a seven-day, five country tour of Africa.
Speaking to a room full of conservative party members, including surprise supporter Penny Mordaunt, the Defence Secretary, Mr Hunt outlined his plans for a ‘tough negotiation’ over Brexit.
In a dig at Mr Johnson’s divisive status, Jeremy Hunt said the Tories must ‘broaden our appeal’ to Remainers and women. But he also risked inflaming party tensions by refusing to give a firm timeline for when Brexit will be complete.
Prominent Brexiteer Penny Mordaunt said she was supporting Mr Hunt as the right candidate to deal with ‘challenging times’, because he had the ‘experience the values and a plan’.
Mr Hunt’s leadership launch came as former foreign secretary William Hague issued a stark warning that the next Conservative leader can only survive if they have a clear plan to end the deadlock over Brexit.
Lord Hague expressed concern that not all the leading candidates in the contest are ready for what will ‘hit them’ if they succeed in the race to succeed Theresa May.
The remaining contenders face the first official hustings of Tory MPs, starting today.
Ten candidates will go into the first round of voting on Thursday after pro-Remain former minister Sam Gyimah pulled out admitting he had been unable to build sufficient support.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Lord Hague said that without a proper plan for dealing with Brexit, the next prime minister would head a ‘sandcastle administration’ which would quickly crumble.
It came as Rory Stewart hit out at rival candidates, accusing them of racking up a series of ‘reckless’ tax and spending pledges they would be unable to keep in office.
Mr Hunt met Lucia – 11 years his junior – at an event in Warwick in 2008 when she was working at the University of Warwick, helping to recruit Chinese students to attend the institution.
He revealed that they ‘allowed work and pleasure to mix for a moment’ and he asked for her email address. A year later, he proposed to her when they were taking a walk near his parents’ home in Shere, in Surrey.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph last month, Mr Hunt described his wife as the ‘perfect partner’ for himself as a Foreign secretary and said her ‘toughness’ was good to have along side in a negotiation.
He said she had helped him build relationships with ‘foreigners, and she is herself foreign.’
They married in Xian after Jeremy asked Lucia’s father for permission to wed his daughter and the couple married in a traditional Chinese ceremony.
They now have three children: Jack, Anna and Eleanor, and have homes in the leafy upmarket Surrey village of Hambledon and London.
Mrs Hunt joined her Foreign Secretary husband on an official tour through Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Kenya last month.
During the six-day visit to five African nations last month Mrs Hunt was photographed stroking a tortoise at the British Ambassador’s residence in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Mr Hunt has previously expressed his concerns about his ‘half-Chinese’ children facing hostility, during a call-in radio show in 2014.
The former Health Secretary said he feared mounting anger against migrants would mean his Chinese wife and their children would face hostility for using the NHS.
He said: ‘I’d like to make one general point about immigration. My wife is Chinese and she obviously lives with me in London.
‘My children are half Chinese and I do not want them to grow up in a country where people look at immigrants and say it’s difficult for me to access NHS services because of people like you.’
After this appearance on radio, Labour MP Helen Goodman tweeted: ‘If China is so great, why did Jeremy Hunt’s wife come to England?’
This tweet resulted in widespread support for Lucia and the rest of the Hunt family and Goodman was forced to apologise after taking down the tweet.
Lucia and Jeremy later formed a real estate business together called Mare Pond Properties Limited.
The purpose of creating the business was to buy up seven luxury properties in the Ocean Village development in Southampton, but the Tory MP garnered backlash for not reporting the business, as was required by British law.
In a gaffe last year Mr Hunt called his wife Japanese on a trade trip to China, despite his wife being very definitely Chinese, this was soon after replacing the error-prone Boris Johnson as the UK’s top diplomat.