British Prime Minister Boris Johnson compared the invasion of Ukraine by Russia to the UK’s decision to leave the European Union in 2016 in a “grotesque” comparison that defied logic and judiciousness in equal measure, uniting the whole of the Conservative party on the vexed subject of Europe for the first time since the Referendum.
He argued both examples showed the two countries’ willingness to fight for their freedom.
“I know that it’s the instinct of the people of this country, like the people of Ukraine, to choose freedom every time,” Johnson said at the Conservative Party Conference Saturday, with the Brexit vote a “famous recent example.”
“When the British people voted for Brexit in such large numbers, I don’t believe it was that they were remotely hostile to foreigners,” he said. “It’s because they wanted to be free to do things differently and for this country to be able to run itself.”
Johnson reiterated the U.K.’s support to the Ukrainian people in their fight against Russia’s aggression. He said the economic sanctions taken against Russia have a “cost” but that “the cost of doing nothing would be far, far higher.”
The comparison was condemned by Tory peer Lord Barwell, who pointed out Ukraine is actively seeking to join the EU.
Writing on Twitter, he said: “Apart from the bit where voting in a free and fair referendum isn’t in any way comparable with risking your life to defend your country against invasion, plus the awkward fact that the Ukrainians are fighting for the freedom to join the EU, this comparison is bang on.”
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said the Prime Minister “is a national embarrassment”, adding: “To compare a referendum to women and children fleeing (Vladimir) Putin’s bombs is an insult to every Ukrainian.”
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said: “Boris Johnson’s comments comparing Ukraine’s life-threatening situation with Brexit was crass and distasteful, and shows just how dangerously obsessed the Tories are with Brexit.”
The prime minister also said “it is the invincible strength of this country that we believe, by and large and within the law, that people should be able to do whatever they want providing they don’t do harm to anyone else. That’s called freedom.”
“That’s Putin’s tragedy. There’s a sense in which his disastrous error in Ukraine is itself an argument for democracy and freedom.”