Boris Johnson has reduced the EU referendum to a question of 'what would Hitler do?'

He may be proving Godwin’s Law yet again, but Boris knows Winston Churchill was once dismissed as a plummy-voiced opportunist – and when the hour of truth came, he proved his nation’s saviour

Matthew Norman
Monday 13 June 2016 12:37 BST
Adolf Hitler in Munich in the spring of 1932
Adolf Hitler in Munich in the spring of 1932 (Getty)

Contemplating the latest droplet of Hitlerian idiocy, this one from Boris Johnson’s noble brow, all manner of laws, acronyms and Latin phrases come to mind.

Whenever anyone makes reference to the Fuhrer, you think of Godwin’s Law, which effectively states that the longer any debate (specifically on the internet) continues, the closer to 100 per cent grows the likelihood that Adolf will be cited.

Other reference points include HDS (Hitler Derangement Syndrome); “reductio ad Hitlerum”; PLMHF (Post-London Mayoral Hitler Fixation; see Kenneth Livingstone); and the general rule of thumb that regardless of the subject – EU membership, fracking, how to grow cherry tomatoes in an east-facing garden – an argument is lost the instant someone brings you-know-who out of the closet.

All the above may apply to Boris’s comparison between Hitler’s dream of rediscovering “the golden age of peace and prosperity under the Romans” with the EU’s attempt “to do this by different methods.” But the acronym of choice is DBS.

Don’t. Be. Silly.

The bespoke style of silliness on display stems from being incredibly clever. This makes it unusual because Third Reich-adducers tend towards the seriously dim. Take the former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, arguably modern Anglican history’s second thickest church official after Dibley verger Alice Tinker. And then it’s 10-11 the pair, and take your pick.

Carey, whose lifelong study of Christ’s teachings causes him to fret pitiably about all those ghastly migrants flooding into Europe, has written a newspaper article in which he likens Brexit to the biblical Exodus.

You might have imagined that story about desperate Middle Eastern folk enduring first a perilous sea journey to freedom, and then a kind of stateless wilderness, to flee unbearable living conditions would more remind him of the poor souls fleeing Syria. But hark, this is Carey, Lord of the Idiots.

On this occasion, to his credit, George keeps any Third Reich reference oblique by referring only to past totalitarianism of various shades on the continent. However, speaking once on the Tory conference fringe, he likened insults aimed at opponents of same-sex marriage, such as his most reverend self, to the rise of Nazism.

“Remember the Jews in Nazi Germany. What started against them was when they were called names. And that was the first stage towards that totalitarian state.”

America’s racist-right routinely draws the link between Nazism and the legislation extending the life-saving medical attention to poor people, primarily black, known as Obamacare. My own favourite came in April, 2001, when Paul McCartney told a friend who ordered steak in a restaurant that eating meat was “like what Hitler did to the fucking Jews”. A beautiful thought, exquisitely expressed.

The difference between Boris and the above is that he is not stupid, and does not blurt out imbecilities. Every word he utters is calculated – albeit often at such speed that it seems spontaneous – to serve his own interests.

The calculation behind this remark is that by raising the Hitlerian spectre over the EU, he paints himself as the age’s Winston Churchill, the tubby, ramshackle, monomaniacal genius who saved his nation from Berlin’s dominion.

Boris makes no secret of his very personal Churchill connection. Apart from writing a biography designed to impress the reader with their similarities, he mentions Winston, expressly or implicitly, at every opportunity.

The thinking here is not opaque. Churchill not only shared Boris’ fecundity with words, funding his political career by churning out articles and books. He too was dismissed as a rogue, a chancer, a plummy-voiced opportunist – and when the hour of truth came, he proved his nation’s saviour.

Boris Johnson dismisses being a 'xenophobe'

There may be one or two trivial differences between them, it has to be said. Avaricious for power as he was, Churchill actually believed in stuff.

He did not attend the Commons in 1936 unsure, until he rose to his feet to address the chamber, as to which of the two speeches in his pocket – one warning of the perils of German rearmament; the other praising it as a splendid repudiation of the wicked Versailles Treaty – he would give.

Boris has not denied writing two Telegraph columns – one for staying in the EU, the other against – and not deciding which to send until the deadline was at hand.

As for a European super-state, in 1946 Churchill famously spoke in Zurich about the need to “re-create the European Family… and provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom.”

Which sounds uncannily like the Hitlerian dream of Boris’s depiction. “We must,” Winston added, “build a kind of United States of Europe.” One day, perhaps Boris’ alternative Telegraph column – the one for remaining – will be found on a hard drive, and passed to the National Boris Archive.

Being an impatient man, I’d give a kidney (not one of mine, obviously; one of George Carey’s) to read it now, just to satisfy my curiosity.

I have the strongest hunch that in it, in support of Britain remaining in the EU, Boris referred to: a) Churchill’s pan-Europeanist instincts; and b) the threat, should the EU collapse after Brexit into a bunch of bickering nations, of a new Hitler emerging from the chaos.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in