Johnson Invokes Hitler as Brexit Debate Heats Up

BOE's Carney Defends Warnings of Brexit Dangers
  • Tragic ends to Europe-unifying bids, says former London mayor
  • Brexit allies criticize Carney for warning of risks to economy

Brexit campaigners invoked Adolf Hitler as a parallel with the European Union and criticized the Bank of England governor, evidence of the debate becoming increasingly caustic six weeks before Britain’s referendum.

The two-pronged offensive began with former Mayor of London Boris Johnson making the historical analogy in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, saying attempts to unify the region tend to end “tragically.” Allies backed him in that analysis and also used media appearances to criticize Mark Carney for the BOE’s warning of the economic consequences of a vote to leave, forcing the governor to defend his actions.

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The remarks reflect pressure points in the fight over EU membership that were underscored in a ComRes poll published over the weekend showing Brexit arguments for the June 23 vote are convincing people more on national security grounds than on the economy. The Bank of England and the International Monetary Fund last week both released analyses on the risks of an exit, and Carney insisted that was the right thing to do.

Mark Carney on the Andrew Marr Show May 15.
Mark Carney on the Andrew Marr Show May 15.
Photographer: Jeff Overs/BBC

‘Daily Business’

“If we’re potentially going to alter the path of interest rates or other instruments of monetary policy because of certain things manifested, we have a duty to explain that to the British people and to Parliament,” Carney told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show. “The bank’s comments on these issues have been in the context of testimony to the House of Lords, testimony to the Commons committees, and inflation reports and associated press conferences around those reports, so it’s in our daily business.”

He spoke days after Conservative lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg told Sky News that the governor “should be fired,” and minutes after the Conservative energy minister, Andrea Leadsom, described the BOE’s comments last week as “incredibly dangerous.”

Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative former work and pensions secretary who is campaigning to leave, added his voice to the criticism, saying on the BBC’s Sunday Politics show that the governor should explain to Parliament’s Treasury Committee why he hasn’t presented both sides of the matter.

Duncan Smith also defended Johnson’s mention of Hitler. The former mayor’s allusion came in an interview that ranged from what wartime leader Winston Churchill would do to a discussion of the euro’s effect on Italy.

‘Ends Tragically’

“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,” Johnson was quoted as saying. “Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically.”

While Rees-Mogg voiced his support of that view on Peston’s Politics on ITV, the comments provoked outrage from supporters of the “remain” camp.

“Leave campaigners have lost the economic argument and now they are losing their moral compass,” Labour Party lawmaker Hilary Benn, who speaks on foreign affairs, was quoted by the Guardian as saying. “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.”

The exchange of verbal blows coincided with new polling by ComRes published in the Independent on Sunday, which showed that 45 percent of voters trust Johnson to tell the truth about Europe, compared with 21 percent saying the same of Prime Minister David Cameron.

The poll also found that on national security, 42 percent said it would be better to leave the EU, compared to 38 percent favoring remaining. Questioned on the economy, 33 percent said that they would be personally better off with the U.K. remaining, compared with 29 percent favoring leaving on that count, and 38 percent saying they didn’t know.

That focus on the economy has proven crucial in general elections, and an unidentified polling specialist with links to Cameron’s office was cited by the Mail on Sunday as saying that it will be decisive in the referendum. Their private prediction was for a vote of 58 percent in favor of remaining in the EU, compared with 42 against, the newspaper said.

Addressing the prospects for Britain’s economy, leaders of business groups across the Commonwealth spoke out on Sunday in favor a vote to remain, in a release from the Confederation of British Industry, the country’s biggest business lobby. It included comments from representatives in Canada, India, South Africa, Singapore, Kenya and Jamaica.

Playing to the same theme, Business Secretary Sajid Javid said that despite being “a euroskeptic and proud of it,” he still believes Britain is better off in the EU.

“Do businesses want the benefits and security of continued access to the single market, or the instability and uncertainty of a lost decade?” he wrote in an article on the Sunday Telegraph’s website. “However you feel about Europe, whether you’re an enthusiastic federalist or an ardent advocate of leaving, that is the question you have to answer on 23 June. And from where I’m standing, there’s only one answer – a vote to remain.”

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