Jeremy Hunt rebuked by Latvian ambassador for likening EU membership to Soviet occupation

Foreign secretary had claimed EU was like a 'prison'

Jon Stone
Europe Correspondent
Monday 01 October 2018 16:23 BST
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Jeremy Hunt compares EU to 'prison' of Soviet Union

Jeremy Hunt has been rebuked by the Latvian ambassador after he used a speech at Conservative conference to compare EU membership to being occupied by the USSR.

Baiba Braže reacted cooly to the British foreign secretary's incendiary address, stating that the USSR had “ruined lives of three generations” in her country while EU membership had brought “prosperity, equality, growth, respect”.

Latvia was one of several Baltic states to be annexed by the USSR in the 1940s and later incorporated into it as a constituent republic. After gaining its independence in 1990 it sought EU membership, finally joining in 2004 after an overwhelming referendum result.

A string of senior British diplomats also condemned Mr Hunt’s comments. Lord Ricketts, a former head of the Foreign Office, said Mr Hunt’s claim was “rubbish unworthy of a British Foreign Secretary”.

The peer’s successor as Britain’s chief diplomat, Simon Fraser, said he agreed with his predecessor and that the Foreign Secretary had displayed a “shocking failure of judgement”.

Responding to a journalist reporting Mr Hunt’s words on social media, Latvian ambassador Ms Braže said: “Just for your information - 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, while the EU has brought prosperity, equality, growth, respect.”

Just for your information - 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, while the EU has brought prosperity, equality, growth, respect.

Baiba Braže, Latvian ambassador to UK

The comments are likely to cause widespread anger across the EU at a time in talks when Britain desperately needs allies on the European Council. Donald Tusk, the president of the body, was active as an anti-Soviet student leader in Gdańsk under Poland’s communist government – at the time a client state of the USSR.

Mr Tusk himself has said that the “tough and in fact uncompromising” stance struck by the British Government, in particular Theresa May, had pushed EU leaders into hardening their own position and rejecting outright her Chequers Brexit trade plan.

Mr Hunt had told conference delegates: “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.”

The EU has consistently said it respects the Brexit referendum result and that Britain will be leaving on March 29 2019 barring a change of heart from UK politicians.

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