Behind the Headlines

"EU is holding UK prisoner like Soviet Union": really?

Written on 10/01/2018

What’s the story?

In his speech to Conservative Party Conference, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has compared the European Union to the Soviet Union holding its citizens prisoner. Read more in the Mirror

How reliable is the story?

Dangerous Rubbish. Not only is this comparison completely inaccurate, it is also extremely damaging for the UK’s international reputation and has been roundly condemned by senior British and foreign diplomats and politicians.

What’s the background?

  • During his first speech to Conservative Conference as Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt has compared the EU to the USSR saying “we won’t be the only prisoner who wants to escape”. Evidence

  • Lord (Peter) Ricketts, who ran the Foreign Office in 2006-10 and is a former ambassador to France, tweeted “This rubbish is unworthy of a British Foreign Secretary.” Evidence

  • Rickett’s successor, Sir Simon Fraser, who was head of the Foreign Office from 2010-15 agreed, tweeting that it was a “shocking failure of judgement for British Foreign Secretary to compare European Union with Soviet Union.” Evidence

  • The remarks have also been condemned outside of the UK: European Commission’s chief spokesman, Margaritis Schinas, 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.” Evidence

  • The comparison is particularly insensitive for those EU countries who were previously subjugated to the USSR. Radislaw Sikorski, a former Polish Foreign Minister, with almost one million Twitter followers, has called for an apology. Evidence

  • Toomas Hendrik Ilves, a former President and Foreign Minister of Estonia, another country that suffered under Soviet occupation, has also criticised Hunt’s words. Evidence

  • Commentators have suggested that Hunt’s provocative remarks could be seen as positioning him for a leadership bid of the Conservative Party.  Evidence

  • But many consider that it will destroy any remaining goodwill towards the UK government in the Brexit (and other) negotiations. Evidence

Image courtesy NHS Conference via flickr

This Behind the Headlines Briefing was first published on the DoorstepEU app: