Jeremy Hunt sparks furious backlash by comparing EU to Soviet Union ‘prison’
Furious EU politicians have hit back at Jeremy Hunt after he claimed that the bloc risked turning into a “prison” like the Soviet Union in its response to Brexit.
Former British diplomats also lined up to criticise the Foreign Secretary after he told the Conservative conference that other member states could follow the UK's lead if Brussels tried to "punish" Britain for quitting.
Mr Hunt said: "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."
But Baiba Braže, Latvia’s ambassador to the UK, said the Soviets had “killed, deported, exiled and imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Latvia's inhabitants”, contrasting that with the country’s time in the EU which she said had “brought prosperity, equality, growth, respect”.
Latvia was annexed by the USSR during the Second World War, forming part of the bloc until its collapse in the 1990s.
Ms Braže’s comments were retweeted by Sabine Weyand, who is the deputy chief negotiator in the EU’s Brexit negotiations with the EU.
German minister Michael Roth also rejected the comparison, saying the EU was “no prison”, while two former top officials from Mr Hunt’s own department also piled in.
Ex-Foreign Office permanent secretary Lord Ricketts branded the claim “rubbish unworthy of a British Foreign Secretary” while his successor Sir Simon Fraser called it a “shocking failure of judgement”.
And Steve Baker, the former Brexit minister who now helps co-ordinate eurosceptic Tory backbenchers in the European Research Group, said Mr Hunt was trying “too hard” to win over his colleagues.
“People who were for ‘Remain’ trying to appeal to Brexiteers time and again go too far,” he told HuffPost UK. “Time and again. Saying things that are just too strident and make my toes curl.”
But Mr Hunt’s remarks earned plaudits from former Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who has long drawn parallels between the EU and the USSR.