Expert View

Hunt’s Soviet jibe ignores years of EU peace and prosperity

by Denis MacShane | 01.10.2018

Denis MacShane is a former Minister of Europe and was a Labour MP for 18 years.

Following Jeremy Hunt’s wincingly undiplomatic comments yesterday, comparing the EU to a Soviet-style “prison”, one has to wonder: What are they putting in the Earl Grey tea served in the Foreign Office?

The post of Her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State, which dates back to Charles James Fox in the 1780s, has been filled by some of the canniest figures in British political history. However, Brexit appears to be turning the judgement of the UK’s foreign secretaries to mush, and with it our geopolitical influence.

Two years of Boris Johnson did major damage to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s reputation. At his first appearance as foreign secretary, Johnson was accused of telling “outright lies” by a New York Times correspondent. His charge sheet over the next two years, until his departure this summer, included: risking an extension of a British citizen’s jail term in Iran after failing to be on top of the detail at a parliamentary hearing; reciting colonialist poetry by Rudyard Kipling in Myanmar; and launching countless attack columns in national newspapers on the prime minister.

FCO diplomats and ambassadors were therefore pleased when Jeremy Hunt, an unflamboyant, middle-of-the-road businessman, became foreign secretary. They’ll be less so after Hunt’s comments on Sunday.

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His crack is deeply insulting to the East Europeans who fought for freedom against Soviet tyranny. As Latvia’s ambassador to the UK says: “Soviets killed, deported, exiled and imprisoned 100 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.”

Peter Ricketts, formerly the top civil servant at the FCO, said Hunt’s statement was “unworthy” of a UK foreign secretary, and that the EU’s legal order has brought “peace and prosperity after a century of war”. He was backed up by his successor, Simon Fraser. Never before have two former permanent under secretaries to the FCO spoken out against a serving foreign secretary.

In 1982, in Poland I was detained, imprisoned and appeared in front of a so-called “workers court” after I was caught running money to the underground operations of the Polish Solidarity trade union. As I stood in the front of the judge I never dreamt that very soon – in just eight years – Poland would be free. In 2004, I sat in Tony Blair’s seat at the European Council when Poland was admitted a member of the EU. The Conservative party of the time supported to the hilt the efforts by the Foreign Office, where I was Europe minister, to get the ex-communist states into the EU.

The EU’s ability to spread peace and democracy is not just limited to the former Eastern Bloc. Spain, Portugal and Greece have all emerged from bruising dictatorships. And look no further than Ukraine to see the destabilising effects Vladimir Putin’s Russia can still have on countries outside the union.

In a self-serving ploy to look tough in the age of Brexit, Jeremy Hunt has chosen to ignore the hugely positive impact the EU has had in a so-often wartorn continent. This wins him no friends beyond hard-Brexit nationalists, and certainly none among the dismayed EU partners with whom we must work to ensure recent decades of peace and prosperity continue into the future.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

12 Responses to “Hunt’s Soviet jibe ignores years of EU peace and prosperity”

  • His comments are the thoughts of the MANY. I find it very interesting that many of my friends / Work colleagues who were 50 / 50 when the original vote was taken now support leaving with no deal and trading at WTO. As a leaver I have NO hesitation in supporting a further peoples vote as I firmly believe the vote would be a increased majority to leave. Our local paper has just done a sample poll in which 74% were in favour of leaving and only 26% remaining. The sample poll pre June 16 exactly mirrored the final result. The only stipulation I have is NO further referendum on the EU should be allowed.

  • I thought Boris Johnson was about as undiplomatic as you can get for a Foreign Secretary, but Jeremy Hunt’s latest comments comparing the EU to the Soviet Union are just ignorant. If he was hoping to win any friends amongst those countries previously under Communist dictatorships, he has well and truly blown that strategy. It’s the sort of comment you might expect from a ‘pub bore’, the worse for wear, but not from a Foreign Secretary. And his talk of the ‘Dunkirk’ spirit will not impress anyone in Europe. The EU are not going to suddenly dismantle the Single Market’s ground rules, which have by and large been a great success story. And if he thinks the home population will be impressed, it will only resonate with a minority of hardcore believers.

  • Hunt’s comments are principally motivated by a desire to keep in with the dwindling band of Tory members and to keep up with Boris Johnston. However they do reveal once again the basic defect in nationalist thinking.

    Nationalists assume that other countries do not have the rights that they claim for their nation. They are often actually unconscious that they are doing this. Many Tories have argued that Britain should leave the EU without seeking a deal and, although Hunt would disagree with this, he would never describe it as an immoral or improper position. If the EU wanted the same thing it would be described as a prison and compared to one of the most brutal dictatorships in history.

    Of course the EU does not want a “no-deal” exit. They have offered the UK two types of structure which would accomplish this. The Government are too busy arguing among themselves to listen and insist on a special deal which is a combination of “pick and mix” and “having your cake and eating it” and which pays absolutely no attention to fair procedure.

  • If anything, being a foreign national, gives me the feeling that I live in a prison manned with soviet-style non-thinkers as guards and officials then it are the likes of Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt and the rest of that bunch of Brexit fanatics. What a sad joke given the UK’s former solid reputation as the voice of reason within the EU!

  • I was relieved when Hunt replaced Johnson as Foreign Secretary but “frying pan and fire” now come to mind. Somehow in this one appalling statement Hunt manages to conflate the EU with both the Soviet Union and the Nazi Germany. Not only, as Denis McShane points out, was the UK at the forefront of those who facilitated the rapid entry into the EU of ex Soviet countries, all of whom have benefited enormously from this initiative, but also we are probably now living in the longest period in recorded history without war between major European countries. Germany in particular has been rehabilitated and reformed within the EU into one of the most respected countries in the world.

    There is more than a hint of desperation in this sort of stuff and it bodes ill for the kind of attitudes which will be fostered in our country if we cannot stop this brexit process, which will particularly damage our most vulnerable people, far from letting them “take back control” of anything.

  • Mr Winwood says he would support a People’s Vote (because in his view the majority for leave would increase) but he stipulates that no further referendum on the EU should be allowed.
    So what would the Peoples Vote be about? The least worst of the various options?
    Presumably these would include a “no deal” Brexit and a “blind Brexit” – which is actually just a “no deal yet” Brexit and something there cannot realistically be a vote on because by definition we wouldn’t know what it was.

    Come to think of it I suppose that was we had in 2016 – a vote between one option we knew about (Remain) and another option (Leave) about which we had no idea at all about what it actually meant.

  • Phil Winwood: ‘(Hunt’s) comments are the thoughts of the MANY’. Really? How do you know? His comments are distasteful in the extreme and inflammatory. Has Mr Winwood not noticed that You Gov polls are actually showing that people who voted to leave are now changing their mind. If May crashes out of the EU then it may actually be AGAINST the will of the nation. Demographics have also changed since 2016. Young people now old enough to vote are in favour of remaining in the EU. The other change is that many elderly leavers in 2016 have passed away in the last two years.
    Hunt and other Tories are playing a dangerous game, inflaming the situation with aggressive words against the EU, many of them personal. It is no way to approach any negotiation. Stamp your feet if you are not getting what you want. Children do that.

  • Many daft things have been said over the last three years on the rights and wrongs of leaving the EU, but what has increasingly worried me is the extent to which previously half respected Politicians have thrown away their previous statesmanlike demeanour, and become irrational and rabid commentators. Teresa was OK with me when she went around in 2016 very publicly announcing that it was in the best interest of the UK to stay in the EU, I thought Boris was great in 2014 when he wrote/said that the UK’s problems were nothing to do with Brussels….I don’t need to go on about the way these supposedly educated and intelligent people have run off down the blind Brexit alley, continuing to flog the dead horse of the benefits of Leave. Regarding Phil and his mates, my experience with Leave voters is that the lower paid ones realise their vote was probably a mistake, whilst the better off ones (who will maintain their lifestyles), refuse to admit they were wrong, and have to dream up a new rationality to justify their vote. My Leave gardener was furious to learn that we would still have to pay VAT if we leave the EU. What bus had he been reading?

  • We mustn’t forget that it was Kerensky May herself who compared the ECJ to ‘Nazi jackboots’. Not to mention her disgraceful description of half the country as ‘citizens of nowhere’, a statement Goebbels would have been proud of. For that alone this inept, clueless so-called PM should have had the guts which she so manifestly lacks to resign. The Tory Party has been taken over by a cabal of nationalistic, chauvinistic, jingoistic demagogues and fraudsters and we all know where this ends.

  • I haven’t read of any of Jeremy Hunt’s party colleagues seeking to apologise or distance themselves from his ignorant remark comparing the EU to the Soviet Union. The irony is, that it is invariably the same people who would be quickest up in arms at the slightest smear from a European politician directed at any British politician or institution. Just witness the fuss about Donald Tusk’s photosnap of Theresa May being offered cake at the recent summit.

  • Hunt and the EU versus the Soviet Union
    – freedom of movement compared with visa authority for travel within the Soviet Union
    – freedom of services compared with availability on payment of hard currency
    – free movement of capital only against hard currency purchased on the black market – usual in all COMECON states
    – free movement of labour as decided on the basis of the “international of labour” – Soviet system of controlling industrial use of technology
    There is no such control of British life!