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A British politician decided it was a good idea to bring Hitler into the Brexit debate

Former London Mayor Boris Johnson works in the back of the Vote Leave bus as it heads towards Exeter
Reuters/Darren Staples
A seat on the Brexit bus.
Published This article is more than 2 years old.

According to Godwin’s Law, if an online discussion goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will bring up Hitler.

It seems that the same law can be increasingly applied to British politicians.

In an interview with British newspaper The Sunday Telegraph, former mayor of London and Conservative Member of Parliament Boris Johnson compared the European Union to Hitler, specifically in its aim of bringing Europe together under one “authority.”

Johnson, the leading campaigner for Britain to leave the EU when it votes on its membership of the bloc on June 23, told the paper:

The whole thing began with the Roman Empire. I wrote a book on this subject, and I think it’s probably right. The truth is that the history of the last couple of thousand years has been broadly repeated attempts by various people or institutions—in a Freudian way—to rediscover the lost childhood of Europe, this golden age of peace and prosperity under the Romans, by trying to unify it. Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically.

The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods. But fundamentally what it 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.

Johnson’s comments were met with criticism from campaigners in the Labour and Conservative parties who want Britain to remain in the EU. “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,” shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn said in response.

Yet Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith, who is pro-Brexit, defended Johnson: “It’s a historical fact of life that if you go through Napoleon, Hitler, everyone else … I think the whole process of trying to drive Europe together by force or by bureaucracy ultimately makes problems.”

Given that Hitler was responsible for a genocide that killed 11 million people, logic would suggest that public figures should use his name with great caution and sensitivity. Yet that doesn’t seem to stop some politicians. Another former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, was suspended from the Labour Party last month for claiming that Hitler was “supporting Zionism” when he won his 1932 election.

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