The foreign secretary sparked a diplomatic row last night after comparing the European Union to a Soviet Union “prison”.
Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, Jeremy Hunt scolded Brussels for its treatment of Prime Minister Theresa May, saying the “arrogance” of the EU meant he would vote Leave if the referendum were now, despite having supported Remain in 2016.
"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,” Hunt told the audience.
His comments were picked up by the Latvian ambassador to the UK, who tweeted: “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.”
They were joined by Simon Fraser and Peter Ricketts, both of whom served as permanent secretaries of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In tweets, they described Hunt’s comments as “rubbish unworthy of a British foreign secretary” and a “shocking failure of judgment”.
Hunt, who took up the position of foreign secretary after former incumbent Boris Johnson resigned in protest against May’s Chequers Brexit plans, has been viewed as a potential candidate to replace the embattled PM if she leaves her position in the coming months.
He called for unity in the Conservative Party during his address yesterday, saying continued Tory infighting could prompt a “wrong Brexit, a [Jeremy] Corbyn Brexit or perhaps no Brexit at all”.
“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,” Hunt said in comments aimed at EU leaders.
Former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron criticised Hunt’s speech, calling him a “third-rate Thatcher tribute act” and “fifth-rate Boris impersonator”.
“Today we see Jeremy Hunt making wild and crass comments about the EU. Comparing it to the USSR is just downright offensive,” Farron, part of the pro-EU Best for Britain campaign, said yesterday. “He seems to have taken Boris' job and his outlandish jibes.”