Jeremy Hunt today likened the EU to a Soviet prison – warning that trying to lock Britain in could destroy the bloc.
The Foreign Secretary made the striking comparison as he delivered a stark message that the UK would ‘fight’ if Brussels tried to block a fair divorce deal.
He insisted the EU must learn the lessons of history and not try to keep countries in line with dirty tactics.
Mr Hunt also issued a plea for Tories to come together behind Theresa May’s Chequers plan, saying infighting only risked handing power to Jeremy Corbyn.
The combative comments came in a speech to party conference in Birmingham that will fuel speculation Mr Hunt sees himself as a future leader.
The Foreign Secretary delivered a stark message to Tory conference (pictured) that the UK would ‘fight’ if Brussels tried to block a fair divorce deal
Mr Hunt arrived for his speech at Conservative Party conference with his wife Lucia
The combative comments came in a speech to party conference in Birmingham (pictured) that will fuel speculation Mr Hunt sees himself as a future leader
Mr Hunt’s support for the premier has been crucial in holding the government together as she struggles to thrash out a deal with the EU.
But Mr Hunt cautioned Brussels against pushing Britain too far, saying that Brussels would also lose out if it ‘turns its back on history’.
He said Eurocrats needed to accept that those who voted for are not ‘rabid populists trying to build Fortress Britain’.
In a direct message to the bloc’s leaders, Mr Hunt said it was completely unacceptable for Brussels to demand Northern Ireland stays within its customs jurisdiction when the rest of the UK leaves.
‘What happened to the confidence and ideals of the European dream? The EU was set up to protect freedom. It was the Soviet Union that stopped people leaving,’ he said.
‘At the moment you seem to think the way to keep the club together is to punish a member who leaves.
‘Not just with economic disruption. But even by breaking up the United Kingdom with a border down the Irish Sea.
‘What happened to the confidence and ideals of the European dream? The EU was set up to protect freedom. 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 it will grow, and we won’t be the only prisoner that will want to escape.
‘If you reject the hand of friendship offered by our Prime Minister, you turn your back on the partnership that has given Europe more security, more freedom and more opportunities than ever in history.
‘And a setback for the EU will become a wholly avoidable tragedy for Europe.’
Mr Hunt said the government understood the EU wanted to ‘protect itself’.
‘But if the only way to deal with the UK leaving is to try to force its break up, as someone much more distinguished than me once said, the answer is “No No No.”
‘Punishing Britain for Brexit is dealing with the symptoms of the problem and not the cause, which is the failure of political elites across Europe – including people like me in Britain – to deal with people’s concerns about migration.’
Mrs Mau has been struggling to hold her party together amid Brexit splits – but seemed to be enjoying herself at conference today