The chancellor has tried to defend the prime minister after he was accused of making “absolutely nasty” comments apparently linking the Ukraine conflict and the Brexit vote.
Rishi Sunak said he did not think Boris Johnson had been suggesting that the UK’s decision to leave the European Union and the fight against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were “analogous”, following comments the prime minister made at the conference. Conservative Party spring meeting on Saturday.
Johnson said in Blackpool that it was the “instinct of the people of this country, like the people of Ukraine, to choose freedom”, with the Brexit vote a “famous recent example”.
They are clearly not directly analogous and I don’t think the Prime Minister was saying that they were
Chancellor Rishi Sunak
The comment has been criticized, including by some in the Conservative ranks, while Labor has called on Johnson to apologize to both the Ukrainians and the British.
But the Chancellor said he felt the Prime Minister was not making a direct link between the two events.
Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme, Sunak said: “No, I don’t think those two situations are directly analogous.
“Clearly they are not directly analogous and I don’t think the prime minister said they were directly analogous either.”
Sunak added: “People will draw their own conclusions. People can make their own decisions.”
Offering a defense of Johnson, the cabinet minister said there was “no question” about the role the prime minister had played on the international stage in responding to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression.
“He has taken the lead internationally in bringing together a coalition of countries to inflict maximum economic damage on Putin and has galvanized opinion and I think he deserves enormous credit for that,” he added.
Conservative MP Robert Halfon also sought to downplay the comparison, telling BBC Breakfast: “I don’t think it’s as important as some people are making it out to be.
“The way I see it is that the Prime Minister was saying that we are a vibrant democracy; we are such a vibrant democracy that we have had a referendum. Ukraine wants to be a vibrant democracy and the Russians are trying to stop that,” said the chairman of the Commons Education Committee.
But Rachel Reeves of the Labor Party said linking the war in Eastern Europe to the 2016 referendum was “insulting”.
The shadow chancellor told Sophy Ridge: “It is absolutely disgusting and insulting to compare the struggle for freedom and aggression by the Russian state with the decision to leave the European Union.
“It is an insult to the Ukrainian people who are fighting for their own freedom and their own life, and it is also an insult to the British people.
“If the prime minister didn’t mean to say that analogy, he shouldn’t have done it and he should take back those words and apologize to the Ukrainian people and the British people for the rude comments he made yesterday.”
Ms Reeves also criticized Mr Johnson’s suggestion to Conservative activists that Labor would fly the “white flag” to Moscow if the opposition party were in power.
The shadow cabinet member called his apparent innuendo “absolutely ridiculous.”
“This was a prime minister who on the eve of the invasion of Ukraine was inviting and dining people with close ties to the Putin regime,” he told Sky News.
“This is a prime minister who overrode the security service by bestowing a noble title on the now Lord Lebedev of Siberia. Therefore, I will not accept sermons from this prime minister.”