Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has drawn widespread criticism from across the political divide for accusing the EU of ‘acting like the Soviet Union’ over Brexit.
Mr Hunt’s remarks, in a speech at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham this week, were described as ‘ignorant and insulting’ by EU leader and diplomats.
With the Brexit negotiations at a delicate stage, many were astonished that Mr Hunt chose such an inflammatory and confrontational approach.
He said the EU’s leaders were trying to turn it into a prison and compared their actions during negotiations to the repression of the former Soviet Union.
The EU’s chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas retorted: “We would all benefit — in particular foreign affairs ministers — from opening a history book from time to time.”
Former Iron Curtain countries were outraged by the comments, with the Estonian ambassador to the U.K. Tiina Intelmann, describing them as “insulting”.
Lithuanian Vytenis Andriukaitis, European commissioner for health and food safety, wrote on Twitter: “I was born in Soviet gulag and been imprisoned by KGB a few times in my life.
“Happy to brief you on the main differences between #EU and Soviet Union.”
Baiba Braže, Latvian ambassador to London, also attacked Mr Hunt on Twitter.
He said: “Soviets killed, deported, exiled and imprisoned 100 thousands of Latvia’s inhabitants after the illegal occupation in 1940 …the EU has brought prosperity, equality, growth, respect.”
There was criticism closer to home too, with Conservative Party donor Alexander Temerko, director of energy company Aquind, saying Mr Hunt “apparently doesn’t know what the Soviet Union was.”
Mr Temerko, who has donated almost £700,000 to the party over the last six years, added that Mr Hunt’s comparison was “very incorrect.”
The Foreign Secretary told party members during his speech that the EU was trying to block the UK’s departure.
He added: “The EU was set up to protect freedom. It was the Soviet Union that stopped people leaving.”
“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.”
Former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves called Hunt’s comment “nonsense” and former Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski said they were “cheap and offensive.”
A government spokesman said the comments were a “passionate plea” not to bring the partnership between Britain and Europe to an end.