The European Council President Donald Tusk has delivered a stern rebuke to the British government’s position on Brexit following the Conservative Party conference.

Speaking alongside Taoiseach Leo Varadkar following a meeting in Brussels, Mr Tusk delivered several broadsides against the UK’s position on Brexit and on the Irish backstop.

He also had a specific response to British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who had compared the EU with the Soviet Union.

The former Polish prime minister said: "Comparing the European Union to the Soviet Union is as unwise as it is insulting. The Soviet Union was about prisons and gulags, borders and walls, violence against citizens.

"The EU is about freedom and human rights, prosperity and peace, life without fear. It is about democracy and pluralism. A continent without internal borders and walls.

"As the president of the European Council and someone who spent half my life in the Soviet bloc I know what I am talking about.

"The Soviet spirit is still alive, as demonstrated by the attack in Salisbury. You will know best where to find this spirit ... rather not in Brussels."

Mr Tusk also appeared to criticise British Prime Minister Theresa May’s complaint that the UK had not been treated with respect during the informal summit in Salzburg on 20 September.

"I always try to present the EU's position honestly and without beating about the bush," he said in a statement following the meeting with Mr Varakdar.

"Telling the truth even if difficult and unpleasant ... that's how it was in Salzburg and that's also how we will work in coming days.

"Emotional arguments that stress the issue of dignity sound attractive, but they do not facilitate agreement. Let us remember that every actor in this process has their dignity, and confrontation in this field will not lead to anything good.

"Second, the task of the EU's negotiator is to defend the interest of the EU as a whole and of all the 27 member states. We very much regret the UK has decided to leave, and we hope for the best relationship in the future.

"But no-one can expect that the EU will give up its fundamental values and key interests. Let me make this clear, the EU wants a relationship with the UK that is as close and special as possible."

Mr Tusk also appeared to take issue with the position of London and the DUP that the Irish backstop threatened the constitutional integrity of the UK.

"Unacceptable remarks that raise the temperature will achieve nothing accept wasting more time. What needs to be done is maximum progress by the October Council."

Following Mr Tusk’s remarks, Mr Varadkar said the negotiations were entering a critical and penultimate phase.

He said Ireland had four objectives, "all aimed at minimising the damage to our country", and these had remained unchanged from the start of the process.

They included protecting the Common Travel Area, the peace process, the rights of Irish citizens in Northern Ireland, and to have a trading relationship with the UK that was as close as possible.

"I’m very keen to see agreement concluded by November if at all possible," he said.

"It’s in the interests of Ireland, the EU and UK and I think we all really need to get down to business over the next few weeks and make that possible."

Mr Varadkar also met the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, with Michel Barnier saying negotiations were in their final stages and the EU was working "hand-in-hand" with the Government.

"To agree to any deal, we need to have a legally sound backstop solution for Ireland and Northern Ireland," Barnier said.

Britain has yet to formally deliver its new ideas, Mr Varadkar said, notably about a fall-back option to keep the whole of the UK in a customs union with the EU.

Mr Varadkar said the Government was open in principle to anything that helps escape extensive Irish border checks, but voiced caution on an all-UK customs union, which the EU has once rejected before.

Tory Brexiteers welcome Tusk intervention

Mr Tusk's intervention comes after Mrs May told the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham that her Chequers plan was the only proposal which would avoid the imposition of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Tory Brexiteers - who say Chequers would keep Britain too closely tied to the EU after it has left the bloc - warmly welcomed Mr Tusk's comments saying they showed another deal was possible.

Former Brexit secretary David Davis, who quit over Chequers, said: "This shows clearly that No 10's claim that 'there is no alternative to Chequers' is just wrong.

"We could easily switch strategies to Canada+++ and deliver an outcome that is good for the UK, acceptable to Parliament, and negotiable with Brussels."

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the pro-Brexit Tory European Research Group, said it represented "a good solution for everyone", while Sir Bernard Jenkin also welcomed Mr Tusk's offer, but said there must be a satisfactory solution to the Irish  border issue.

"EU must concede that Irish border issue is resolvable via checks away from border, not via backstop which threatens to divide UK," he wrote on Twitter.

Mrs May is adamant she will not accept the EU's proposed "backstop" arrangement which would effectively see Northern Ireland remain in the customs union if there was no wider deal - requiring checks on goods going between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Additional reporting Reuters