- Boris Johnson said it’s the instinct of both Ukraine and the UK to “choose freedom every time.”
- He cited Brexit as a “famous recent example,” sparking outrage over the comparison.
- Comparing the referendum to the war is an “insult to every Ukrainian,” Liberal Democrat Ed Davey said.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson sparked anger on Saturday for drawing a comparison between Ukraine fighting off a Russian invasion and the British voting in favor of leaving the European Union.
“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 during a speech at the Conservative Party’s Spring Conference in Blackpool, adding that he had 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,” Johnson said.
Johnson was talking about the contentious 2016 vote in which a slim majority voted in favor the UK leaving the EU, with 52% voting to leave and 48% voting to remain. He also said another example was when the British people chose to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
—Adam Bienkov (@AdamBienkov) March 19, 2022
His Brexit comments sparked swift criticism from other UK and European political figures.
Guy Verhofstadt, the former prime minister of Belgium, called the comparison “insane.” Donald Tusk, the president of the European People’s Party, said Johnson’s remarks “offend Ukrainians, the British, and common sense.”
Ed Davey, leader of the UK’s Liberal Democrats, said in a tweet that Johnson was a “national embarrassment.”
“To compare a referendum to women and children fleeing Putin’s bombs is an insult to every Ukrainian,” he said.
Gavin Barwell, a Conservative and former member of UK Parliament, said in a tweet: “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.”
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said last month after the invasion began that he had officially applied to make Ukraine a member of the EU.
Downing Street did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.