Boris Johnson has been severely criticized after he compared Ukrainians’ fight against the Russian invasion to the UK’s decision to vote for Brexit.
The prime minister said that “like the people of Ukraine”, the UK had “chosen freedom” in the 2016 referendum.
Conservative peer Lord Barwell was among those who condemned Johnson for his remarks, saying that “voting in a free and fair referendum isn’t in any way comparable with risking your life to defend your country against invasion”.
In his keynote address to the Tory spring conference in Blackpool, Johnson said: “I know that it’s the instinct of the people of this country, like the people of Ukraine, to choose freedom, every time. I can give you a couple of famous recent examples.
“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.”
The remarks sparked an angry backlash from both sides of the Brexit debate.
Responding on Twitter, Lord Barwell – who is also a former Tory MP and was Theresa May’s chief of staff when she tried to get her EU withdrawal agreement through parliament – 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 + the awkward fact the Ukrainians are fighting for the freedom to join the EU, this comparison is bang on.”
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 + the awkward fact the Ukrainians are fighting for the freedom to join the EU, this comparison is bang on https://t.co/j6qhtNvFYO
— Gavin Barwell (@GavinBarwell) March 19, 2022
Lib Dem leader Ed Davey tweeted: “Boris Johnson is a national embarrassment. His buffoonery contrasts with the courageous leadership of President Zelensky. To compare a referendum to women and children fleeing Putin’s bombs is an insult to every Ukrainian. He is no Churchill: he is Basil Fawlty.”
Former European Council president Donald Tusk tweeted: “Boris Johnson likens Ukrainians’ fight to British people voting for Brexit. I can still remember the enthusiasm of Putin and Trump after the referendum. Boris, your words offend Ukrainians, the British and common sense.”
Broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer, an outspoken Brexit supporter, said: “Even as a staunch Brexiteer, this is totally cringe from Boris Johnson. Comparing the vote to leave the EU with the Ukrainian people fighting for their lives against a foreign invader is an insult to their bravery and sacrifice.”