Tory ministers struggled to defend Boris Johnson's Brexit and Ukraine comparison

Tory ministers struggled to defend Boris Johnson's Brexit and Ukraine comparison
Boris Johnson called ‘distasteful and shameless’ for Ukraine war and Brexit comparison

After Boris Johnson decided to compare Brits voting for Brexit to Ukrainians standing up to Russia when discussing the ongoing war, he triggered widespread condemnation, including from staunch Brexiteers who thought he had gone far too far.

In case it passed you by, Johnson made the crass comments in a speech delivered at the Conservative Party Spring Conference in Blackpool.

He told members of his party on Saturday: “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."

Since then, Johnson has left his lackeys clamouring to get him out of yet another fine mess and they aren't having the best go at it by acting like Johnson meant something entirely different.

Sign up to our free Indy100 weekly newsletter

First, chancellor Rishi Sunak appeared on Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, and insisted that Johnson had not intended to draw a direct comparison between the two situations, despite being shown footage of the quote from the speech in full.

“I don’t think those two situations are directly analogous,” said Sunak. “Clearly they are not directly analogous and I don’t think the prime minister was saying they were directly analogous.”

Next up to bat was Sajid Javid, who today claimed Johnson's comments had been taken out of context and that "normal people" would know what the PM meant.

He said Johnson had been talking about universal “self-determination” but had not made a comparison between the Brexit vote and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The minister told Sky News: “I think it’s spurious to say he was connecting, somehow, UK and Ukraine in that way – most normal people wouldn’t have drawn that conclusion.”

Javid added: “What I heard from the prime minister was the ... basically the desire for self-determination in everyone, no matter what country they’re in, no matter what their circumstance, is strong. I don’t think, in any way, he was connecting the situations in Ukraine and the UK.”

The health secretary also defended Johnson’s comments on BBC Breakfast, insisting it was “not the case” that the PM had not compared Ukraine’s fight against Russia to Brexiteers’ struggle against the EU.

Javid added: “When it comes to Boris Johnson and Ukraine, it’s hard to find any world leader that’s done more to support Ukraine at this time.”


Sunak and Javid may think Johnson's comments weren't too bad but they are in a minority. Donald Tusk, the former president of the European Council, called the comments offensive.

Conservative peer Lord Barwell said voting in a referendum was not "in any way comparable with risking your life" in a war, while Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said it was an "insult" to Ukrainians.

Another clanger from the PM.

The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.

Have your say in our news democracy. Click the upvote icon at the top of the page to help raise this article through the indy100 rankings.

The Conversation (0)