YORKSHIRE MPs round on Boris Johnson claiming his Leave the EU campaign is “desperate”, “nasty” and a sign Brexit arguments are unravelling.
The former London mayor sparked outrage this morning after he compared European Union efforts to build a superstate to Hitler’s attempt to dominate the continent.
While the senior Conservative acknowledged the EU was using “different methods” to the Nazis, his incendiary comparison in the Sunday Telegraph has enraged Remain campaigners.
Mr Johnson - seen as the de facto leader of the Leave campaign - said the past 2,000 years of European history 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 the interview.
“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.”
Labour’s former shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said: “Boris Johnson is playing a nasty, nasty game. The more he flails around with this kind of hysterical claim, the more he exposes his shameful lack of judgement, his willingness to play the most divisive cynical politics, and the emptiness of his arguments.”
The MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, added that he is trying to liken the institution that has “kept peace on our continent for decades with Hitler, who pursued the genocide of millions of innocent people”.
She said: “All because he is desperately seeking headlines for a desperate campaign.”
The referendum on whether to leave the EU or stay, with a reformed relationship with Brussels, will be held on June 23.
Shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn and Leeds Central MP said Mr Johnson’s comparison of the EU to the Third Reich was “offensive and desperate”.
“Leave campaigners have lost the economic argument and now they are losing their moral compass,” he 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.”
Senior Liberal Democrats who are campaigning to remain in the EU agreed that the argument from the leave camp has touched on highly insensitive ground.
Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said: “The EU has helped secure peace; Hitler destroyed peace and killed millions of innocent people. It is extraordinary that anyone even needs to point this out to him.”
Former party leader Paddy Ashdown was equally appalled by Johnson’s cynical intervention: “People are fed up with yet another tuppeny tin-pot imitation Churchill promising to ‘fight them on the beaches’ while weakening our defences and wrecking our economy.”
However Tory MP Mr Rees-Mogg described Mr Johnson’s remarks as a “very interesting historic parallel”, to ITV political editor Robert Peston this morning.
He said: “What Boris was saying is absolutely true.
“Philip II of Spain, Louis XIV of France, Napoleon and Hitler all wanted to create a single European power.
“What Boris has said is the EU is following the footsteps of these historic figures but using different means.
“Now, all of those tried to do it by force and the EU is trying to do it by stealth, and whenever there’s a vote that goes against them they make people vote again or, as quite disgracefully in Greece, they simply ignored the vote altogether.”