In a widely-criticised recent speech to the Conservative Party Spring Conference in Blackpool, Johnson compared the Ukrainians bid for freedom to the British vote for Brexit. He said (Elly Blake, Evening Standard):
“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 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 other example given by the Prime Minister was the British people’s willingness to voluntarily get vaccinated against Covid-19 because they “wanted to get on with their lives” and “were fed up with being told what to do by people like me”.
The prime minister is well-known as an opportunist, and also as being frequently careless with his remarks. In this case, he couldn’t bring himself to pass up the opportunity of thumping the tub for Brexit, and of course his own role and that of his party in bringing it about, by linking it to the war in Ukraine. No doubt the Party faithful in Blackpool were delighted. Unfortunately the linkage he chose to make rightly attracted appalled criticism from several European leaders.
The French Ambassador to the UK, Ms Colonna, retweeted the following, from Philippe Errera, the political director at the French foreign ministry:
“If I were Ukrainian, I would feel insulted. If I were British, I would feel ashamed. As a French diplomat, I will not comment on twitter…”
“I can still remember the enthusiasm of Putin and Trump after the referendum. Boris, your words offend Ukrainians, the British and common sense.”
“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”.
Ex-President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, said (as he donned a bullet-proof jacket in his invaded country):
“How many Britons died because of Brexit? Zero. Only today we have 150 Ukrainian children who were killed by Russian soldiers and Russian artillery. Can I ask you how many houses were destroyed because of Brexit? We have whole cities that have been completely destroyed. With this situation, please, no comparison.”
Apart from the emotional response in the instant reactions above, there remains a place for fact-checking:
- How come that Ukraine submitted an application to join the EU last month?
- If Brexit i.e. leaving the EU is synonymous with the freedom that Leave voters voted for, how come that freedom-loving leader Vladimir Putin was so pleased that the UK had left?
- How can it be the case that Remain voters are somehow not that interested in freedom?
- Johnson’s so-called freedom was achieved at the expense of everyone else’s loss of freedom to live, work, travel and be educated in the EU.
- Johnson claims rightly that British people are not hostile to foreigners. In that case, why has the Government for years had such a hostile environment to refugees and asylum-seekers, and why is it now passing a Bill through Parliament to make asylum seekers illegal simply because of the manner of their escape route?
Johnson claims that British people voted for Brexit because they wanted to be free to do things differently and for this country to be able to run itself. But ‘doing things differently’ and ‘running ourselves’ seems to amount to:
- losing 4% of UK GDP,
- losing much of our profitable trade with the EU,
- the Conservative Government cutting UK regional development spending compared to the EU structural fund,
- reducing environmental and work-place standards,
- pulling the UK out of all the valuable EU cooperative programmes such as the European Medical Agency, Euratom, Erasmus, Galileo, Police and Security and data exchange cooperation, and Defence cooperation, and replacing some of these with weaker or cheaper or less effective alternatives, and
- signing a few small international trade deals which will allow inferior products into UK markets.
- Plus reducing human rights, reducing democratic legitimacy, reducing appeal court rights etc. etc.
It is very clear that Johnson is not fit to be prime minister, as has been said many, many times and for many, many reasons. He is far more interested in spinning a cheap headline or cheap soundbite for himself, than in competent, honest, fair and decent leadership and government.
And to be sure Johnson does not understand freedom.