Boris Johnson has provoked fury and outrage across Britain and Europe for comparing the Ukraine war with Brexit.
Johnson’s analogy during his speech to the Conservative party spring conference was denounced as “truly disgraceful” and “despicable” by Sweden’s former prime minister Carl Bildt, who added: “Any thought of inviting this man to an EU summit [next week with Joe Biden] should be shelved.”
In his speech on Saturday, Johnson criticised those who “make accommodations with tyranny”, saying the world faces a choice between “freedom and oppression”.
“I know that it’s the instinct of the people of this country, like the people of Ukraine, to choose freedom every time,” he continued.
“When the British people voted for Brexit in such large, large numbers, I don’t believe it was because they were remotely hostile to foreigners. It’s because they wanted to be free to do things differently and for this country to be able to run itself.”
Johnson’s Ukraine-Brexit analogy is ‘insane’ says Verhofstadt
Johnson’s comments came just days after Ukraine started its application to join the EU. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy held talks with the EU’s Ursula von der Leyen on Friday (March 18) – the same day he had talks with Johnson.
A Downing Street spokesperson said the PM “reiterated his disgust at Russia’s barbaric actions” during his call with Zelenskyy, and spoke of “his admiration for the steadfast resistance of the Ukrainian people in the face of tyranny. He said the entire United Kingdom stands with Ukraine.”
The next day in Blackpool, Johnson likened their fight with people in the UK voting for Brexit. The EU’s former chief negotiator Guy Verhofstadt said the “comparison of the courageous fight of Ukraine with Brexit is insane. Brexit was about undoing freedoms and leaving the EU. Ukrainians want more freedom and to join the EU!”
“Boris, your words offend Ukrainians, the British and common sense,” tweeted Donald Tusk, former president of the European Council.
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said Johnson must apologise for his comments. Reeves told viewers of Sky News’ Sophie Ridge on Sunday that the PMs remarks are “utterly distasteful and insulting” to both British and Ukrainian people.
Earlier, when Rishi Sunak was asked if he thought Johnson comparing the invasion of Ukraine to Brexit was “crass”, the chancellor said the PM “has taken a lead globally in standing up to Putin.”
Sunak said Ukraine and Brexit and “not directly analogous” and that the PM had not intended to make a straight comparison.
Johnson will be in Brussels for a Nato summit on Thursday (March 24). However, he has not yet been invited to the EU leaders’ summit on the same day, which US president Biden will be attending.