AS the Brexit campaign enters its final five weeks Boris Johnson has landed himself in hot water by comparing the European political project to imperial schemes of the past, including the Roman Empire and the Nazi’s attempt to dominate the continent.
“Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically. The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods,” he said in an interview with the Telegraph on May 14.
“But fundamentally, what is lacking is the eternal problem, which is that there is no underlying loyalty to the idea of Europe. There is no single authority that anybody respects or understands. That is causing this massive democratic void.”
Labour’s Hilary Benn was quick to score political points in denouncing the comparison, describing the statement as “offensive and desperate” and belying a lack of “moral compass”.
“Leave campaigners have lost the economic argument and now they are losing their moral compass” said the shadow foreign secretary.
“After the horror of the second world war, the EU helped to bring an end to centuries of conflict in Europe, and for Boris Johnson to make this comparison is both offensive and desperate.”
Blairite former cabinet minister and one time candidate for the Labour leadership, Yvette Cooper, weighed in:
“The more he flails around with this kind of hysterical claim, the more he exposes his shameful lack of judgement, his willingness to play the most divisive cynical politics, and the emptiness of his arguments,”
“One week it is dog-whistle attacks on President [Barack] Obama. Now he is trying to liken the institution that has kept peace on our continent for decades with Hitler, who pursued the genocide of millions of innocent people.”
Johnson is highly unlikely to care whether he has upset the Labour opposition but will welcome the intervention of anti-EU crusader Nigel Farage who publicly stated his support for a Boris led government should the Remainers lose the vote and Cameron likely be forced to step down.
“Boris goes on surprising people. They say he can’t do this, he’s a joker – it’s like Ronnie Reagan. Could he do it? Yes. If you’d asked me six months ago, I’d have said no, but I’ve changed my mind,” he said.