Boris Johnson faced a furious political backlash after he compared European Union efforts to build a federal super state to Hitler’s plans to dominate the continent.
While the former London mayor acknowledged the EU was using “different methods” to the Nazis, Remain campaigners said his incendiary comparison to the Third Reich showed he was unfit for high office.
However pro-Brexit Tories said he was simply stating a “historical fact of life” about the failure of successive attempts over the centuries to establish a “greater Europe”.
The latest row erupted after David Cameron was attacked last week by Leave campaigners for suggesting British withdrawal from the EU could lead to the Third World War.
Mr Johnson — seen as the de facto leader of the Leave campaign — said the past 2,000 years had been dominated by doomed attempts to unify the continent under a single government to recreate the “golden age” of the Romans.
“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 Sunday Telegraph.
“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.”
His comments were immediately condemned by the Remain campaigners with shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn branding them “offensive and desperate”.
“Leave campaigners have lost the economic argument and now they are losing their moral compass,” Mr Benn said. “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.”
Field Marshal Lord Bramall, a former head of the Army who took part in the D-Day landings, said Mr Johnson’s remarks were “simply laughable”.
“I know only too well, this comparison of the EU and Nazi Germany is absurd. Hitler’s main aim was to create an empire in the East and violently subjugate Europeans,” he said.
Former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown said: “People are fed up with yet another tuppenny tin-pot imitation Churchill promising to ‘fight them on the beaches’ while weakening our defences and wrecking our economy.”
Mr Johnson’s comments were, however, defended by the pro-Brexit former cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith who said he was simply stating a “historical fact of life”.
“I think the whole process of trying to drive Europe together by force or by bureaucracy and democratic means ultimately makes problems,” he told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show.
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