British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has come under fire, including from his own MPs, after saying Brexit showed that Britons shared the same “instinct” for freedom as Ukrainians.
In a speech to his Conservative Party conference in Blackpool, northern England, on Saturday, Johnson said it was “the instinct of the people of this country, like the people of Ukraine, to choose freedom every time”.
He cited the Brexit referendum in June 2016 as a “famous recent example”.
“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,” he said.
He also cited the COVID-19 vaccine rollout by the United Kingdom as an example of people’s desire to get their freedoms back.
Reacting to it, European Council President Donald Tusk said on Sunday on Twitter: “Boris, your words offend Ukrainians, the British and common sense.”
Former EU negotiator Guy Verhofstadt called the comments “insane”.
Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said Johnson was “needlessly creating division”.
“To compare a referendum to women and children fleeing Putin’s bombs is an insult to every Ukrainian,” he added.
The finance minister, Rishi Sunak, said on Sky News on Sunday that he did not consider the two situations comparable.
“Clearly they are not directly analogous and I don’t think the prime minister was saying that they were directly analogous either,” he said.