EU 'acting like Hitler', says UK's Boris Johnson

15th May 2016, Comments 0 comments

Former London mayor Boris Johnson claimed the European Union was behaving like Hitler by trying to create a superstate in an interview out Sunday which unleashed a wave of criticism.

Johnson, the leading figure campaigning for Britain to leave the EU in a June 23 referendum, was attacked by opponents at home who called his remarks "offensive and desperate", as well as from within Europe.

In a Sunday Telegraph interview, Johnson said the last two thousand years of European history had featured repeated efforts to unite the continent under a single government, emulating the Roman empire.

"Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically. The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods," said Johnson, a populist figure known for his rhetorical flourishes and historical allusions.

"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," he said.

With under six weeks to go, the "Remain" camp -- led by Prime Minister David Cameron -- and the "Leave" side are tied at 50 percent support each, according to the What UK Thinks website's average of the last six opinion polls.

- 'Losing their moral compass' -

It is the second time in a few weeks that Johnson has attracted criticism over the way he has made the case for Brexit.

He was accused of racism last month after suggesting that US President Barack Obama had removed a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office because of anti-British sentiment linked to his "part-Kenyan" heritage.

He made his claims in an article criticising Obama for supporting Britain's EU membership during a visit to Britain.

While Johnson has often been accused of preferring to use bluster and comedy to make his case rather than facts, he faced a particularly heavy backlash over his latest comments.

Hilary Benn, foreign affairs spokesman for the main opposition Labour party and a supporter of EU membership, called Johnson's Hitler comparison "offensive and desperate".

"Leave campaigners have lost the economic argument and now they are losing their moral compass," he added.

Another leading pro-EU Labour figure, Yvette Cooper, said Johnson was playing a "nasty, nasty game".

"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," she said.

Edwin Bramall, a former head of Britain's army who served in World War II, called Johnson's comments "simply laughable" and "absurd".

Finnish finance minister Alexander Stubb added on Twitter: "What is happening in the cradle of common sense and civilization? This is an outrageous comparison by @borisjohnson."

But Iain Duncan Smith, a former Cabinet minister who is another leading "Leave" figure, told the BBC Johnson was simply stating a "historical fact of life".

There was some succour for Johnson as a ComRes opinion poll for the Independent and Sunday Mirror found he was trusted to tell the truth about Europe by twice as many people as Cameron.

Meanwhile, Nigel Farage, leader of the anti-EU UK Independence Party, backed Johnson to follow Cameron as prime minister and Conservative leader.

Analysts suggest Cameron will be forced to resign if Britain votes to leave the EU. Johnson, whose term as London ended this month, is one of the favourites to replace him.

"Boris goes on surprising people," Farage said in a Mail on Sunday interview conducted before Johnson's latest comments came out. "Could he do it? Yes."

© 2016 AFP

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