Jeremy Hunt (pictured) faced backlash after comparing EU to Soviet jail
Jeremy Hunt faced a backlash from European leaders last night after comparing the EU to a Soviet jail.
Brussels officials told the Foreign Secretary he should ‘read a history book’ to learn how communist rule was a ‘dark period’.
A senior MEP said Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher would be ‘turning in their graves’ over his remarks.
There was also criticism from former British diplomats who said his comments were ‘unworthy’ of a Foreign Secretary.
In his speech to conference on Sunday, Mr Hunt savaged those in Brussels who believe ‘the way to keep the club together is to punish a member who leaves’.
He added: ‘The EU was set up to protect freedom. It was the Soviet Union who stopped people leaving. If you turn the EU into a prison, the desire to get out won’t diminish, it will grow, and we won’t be the only prisoner who wants to escape.’
Senior Tories said Mr Hunt’s comments were a naked appeal to Eurosceptic activists and an attempt to bolster his leadership credentials.
The EU Commission’s chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas said: ‘I would say respectfully that we would all benefit, in particular foreign affairs ministers, from opening a history book from time to time.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt (pictured) gives a speech in the main hall on the first day of the Conservative Party Conference
‘I do not have a book to recommend, but I think there is a lot of literature covering this dark period of history.’
European Parliament chief negotiator Guy Verhofstadt said: ‘Offensive and outrageous comments by Mr Hunt, especially to those millions of Europeans that lived under Soviet occupation.
‘Churchill and Thatcher, these great defenders of European freedom and democracy must be turning in their graves.’
European Parliament chief negotiator Guy Verhofstadt (pictured) said Mr Hunt’s comments were ‘offensive and outrageous’
Poland’s former foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski called for Mr Hunt to apologise: ‘Did the Red Army force you to join? How many millions has Brussels exterminated? Gulag for demanding a referendum on independence? Apologise, Jeremy Hunt!’
Latvia’s ambassador to the UK, Baiba Braze said: ‘Soviets killed, deported, exiled and imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Latvia’s inhabitants after the illegal occupation in 1940, and ruined lives of three generations. The EU has brought prosperity, equality, growth, respect.’
Peter Ricketts, the former Foreign Office permanent secretary said: ‘This rubbish is unworthy of a British Foreign Secretary.’
Poland’s former foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski (pictured) called for Mr Hunt to apologise
Sir Simon Fraser, his successor as the FCO’s chief diplomat said: ‘Whatever you think about Brexit, [it’s a] shocking failure of judgment for a British Foreign Secretary to compare the European Union with the Soviet Union.
Last night a source close to Mr Hunt said any ‘sensible reading’ of the speech made clear the EU ‘is not the Soviet Union’.
‘It was a passionate plea not to end the partnership between Britain and Europe that defeated totalitarianism and not to become a club where members who leave get punished,’ he said.