Jeremy Hunt told to 'open a history book' after comparing EU to Soviet Union

October 1, 2018  

The foreign secretary provokes a backlash from European politicians and diplomats after comparing the bloc to the Soviet Union.

17:42, UK,
Monday
01
October
2018

By Alan McGuinness, political reporter

Jeremy Hunt has been told to brush up on his European history after comparing the EU to the Soviet Union.

The foreign secretary has provoked a backlash after accusing Brussels of wanting to “punish” Britain for Brexit, comparing the bloc to the USSR trying to stop its citizens leaving.

When asked about the comment, a European Commission spokesman said: “I would say, respectfully, that we would all benefit, and in particular foreign affairs ministers, from opening a history book from time to time.”

Sir Simon Fraser, the Foreign Office’s permanent secretary, said Mr Hunt was guilty of a “shocking failure of judgement”, while his predecessor Lord Ricketts said the remark was “unworthy of a British foreign secretary”.

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Meanwhile, Germany’s Europe minister Michael Roth told the foreign secretary: “Sorry, Jeremy Hunt, the EU is no prison!”

And diplomats from countries that were once part of the Soviet Union also hit out.

Latvia’s ambassador to the UK said the EU had brought her country “prosperity, equality, growth, respect” after decades of Soviet rule that had ruined lives.

Baiba Braze said: “Soviets killed, deported, exiled and imprisoned 100 thousands of Latvia’s inhabitants after the illegal occupation in 1940, and ruined lives of 3 generations, while the EU has brought prosperity, equality, growth, respect.”

Dear @faisalislam , just FYI – Soviets killed, deported, exiled and imprisoned 100 thousands of Latvia’s inhabitants after the illegal occupation in 1940, and ruined lives of 3 generations, while the EU has brought prosperity, equality, growth, respect. #StrongerTogether https://t.co/BNUvmsgXnR

While Tina Intelmann, Estonia’s representative in London, said the description was “insulting”.

The Czech Republic’s deputy foreign minister, Tomas Petricek, said the country had “its experience of the Soviet sphere of influence” and the comparison was an “unfortunate” one to make.

Mr Hunt made the remark in his speech at the Conservative Party conference on Sunday.

In his address to the party’s annual gathering in Birmingham, the foreign secretary recalled a visit to Latvia, during which he said he saw how the Baltic state had developed into “a modern democracy, part of both NATO and the EU” in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse.

EU and USSR not comparable. Soviet regime was brutal, I lived under it, comparison is insulting. @Conservatives @foreignoffice @Jeremy_Hunt @estembassyuk

And he asked: “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.”

There was yet more tough talking on Europe on Monday, with Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab calling on the EU to “get serious” if they want an agreement on the terms of Britain’s EU exit.

He said Britain’s willingness to compromise was “not without limits” and warned the EU that if the only offer on the table was one that threatened the integrity of the UK “then we will be left with no choice but to leave with no deal”.

© 2018 Sky UK