“It’s the instinct of the people of this country, like the people of Ukraine, to choose freedom, every time...When the British people voted for Brexit in such large, large numbers…it's because they wanted to be free to do things differently.”

Boris Johnson, Tory Party Conference

March 18, 2022

Facts

Boris Johnson compared the UK’s Brexit Referendum to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine at the Tory Party conference, saying: "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."

Ex-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko criticised  Johnson, saying: “How many citizens of the UK died because of Brexit? How many houses were destroyed because of Brexit? With this situation, please no comparison."

Patrick Cormack, who served as a Conservative MP from 1970 to 2010, responded to Johnson’s remarks in a letter in the Times, writing: “On Saturday in Blackpool Boris Johnson plumbed in the depths of political oratory. In a few short sentences he managed to insult 44 million Ukrainians, about 500 million citizens of the European Union and almost half of those who voted in the EU referendum. By his grotesque comparison of a nation fighting for the survival of its democracy with that narrow majority of his fellow citizens who voted to leave the EU he destroyed all he has achieved in recent weeks.”

Verdict

Russia invaded Ukraine in part because Ukraine wanted to join the EU. It’s absurd to compare Brexit, where people had a choice to vote, to Ukraine’s heroic struggle against a murderous and brutal Russian invader. Johnson’s distasteful comparison between the British vote for Brexit and the Ukrainian fight against Russia was therefore morally distasteful as well as factually wrong.

We approached Mr Johnson’s office, the Cabinet Office and the No 10 Press Office to give him a chance to comment, but received no response. 

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