Jeremy Hunt has doubled down on controversial comments likening the European Union to the former Soviet Union.
The Foreign Secretary sparked outrage among eastern European politicians while speaking about Brexit at the Conservative Party Conference last month, telling crowds: “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.”
Speaking at the time, the Estonian ambassador to the UK branded the comments “insulting”, while her Latvian counterpart pointed out that Soviets “ruined the lives of three generations”.
But asked on Tuesday whether he had apologised to leaders of former eastern bloc countries during a recent summit, Hunt told MPs he stood by “exactly” what he said.
He told the House of Commons he had remarked that “a club of free countries that was set up in part to stand up against the Soviet Union and totalitarianism should not, in a way that is inconsistent with its values, seek to punish someone who wishes to leave”.
Meanwhile, after being pressed by SNP MP Stephen Gethins to apologise to former USSR countries for his “crass remarks”, the Foreign Secretary said: “I think those states agree with what I’m saying”, arguing they had been amongst the UK’s strongest supporters in the Brexit process.
When told by Gethins that the Lithuanian commissioner – who was born in a Soviet gulag and imprisoned by the KGB – had offered him a history lesson, Hunt offered to “send him a copy of my speech so he can see exactly what I said”.
He continued: “And what he will see is that I said it is very important for both the UK and continental Europe to work together to stand against precisely those totalitarian regimes.”