"I know that it’s the instinct of the people of this country, like the people of Ukraine, to choose freedom every time," UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a speech Saturday. "I can give you a couple of famous recent examples." One of those examples—the British vote approving Brexit—fell flat, the BBC reports. Johnson said he doesn't believe Brexit was approved because voters were disapproving of foreigners. "It's because they wanted to be free to do things differently and for this country to be able to run itself," he said.
The speech was delivered to a Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool. Among a wider audience, there was criticism in the UK and Europe of likening the decision to withdraw from the EU to the decision to pick up arms to fight off an invading army. Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey called Johnson's comments an insult to Ukrainians, and a former president of the European Council said they were offensive. Rachel Reeves, the UK's shadow chancellor, called for an apology and pointed out that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has applied for admittance to the EU, so "he clearly sees no such parallel."
There was pushback from Johnson's party, as well, per the Insider. Gavin Barwell, a former member of the UK Parliament, tweeted: "Apart from the bit where voting in a free and fair referendum isn't in any way comparable with risking your life to defend your country against invasion + the awkward fact the Ukrainians are fighting for the freedom to join the EU, this comparison is bang on." In his speech, Johnson also reinforced his government's support of the Ukrainian people in the war, per Politico. The UK is attractive to Ukrainian refugees and Russians trying to get away from the political oppression in Russia, Johnson said. "We just want to be free, and that’s why talented people are fleeing Russia right now," he said. (Read more Russia-Ukraine war stories.)