Boris Johnson Was Called Out for Equating Brexit With ‘Liberation’

  • Foreign Secretary rejects accusation that it’s a loaded term
  • I ‘disagree with you emphatically,’ he tells Munich audience

Boris Johnson delivered a Brexit-inspired English lesson to a roomful of diplomats in Germany.

The U.K. foreign secretary was responding to a challenge by a European Union lawmaker at the Munich Security Conference that he shouldn’t have used the term “liberation” to describe Britain’s exit from the bloc. It has too much of a loaded meaning in a continent that’s not forgotten its experience of war and occupation, she told him, to a round of applause.

Boris Johnson in Munich on Feb. 17.

Photographer: Johannes Simon/Getty Images

“Come on,” retorted Johnson, who was participating in a debate entitled “The future of the West”. “I have to say, I hesitate to accuse you of pomposity, but the word liberation clearly means... it’s etymologically equivalent to being freed, and it’s an undeniable fact that we, the U.K., has been unable to do, to run it’s own trade policy for 44 years.”

Johnson, a speaker of several European languages and sometime historian and journalist as well as one of the U.K.’s most colorful politicians, was a prominent backer of the campaign for Britain to leave the EU. As foreign secretary, he’s playing his highest-profile role in government as it gears up to negotiate the terms of Brexit with the rest of the bloc.

“I want to reclaim the English language, if I may,” Johnson said, as he continued to justify his use of the word. “There is absolutely no reason why I should not use the word liberation to refer to our ability to take back control of our tariff schedules in Geneva and do our own free trade deals. And I’m sorry, but I’m going to disagree with you emphatically.”

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