Boris Johnson was right, given the choice people will choose freedom over serfdom - Brian Monteith

The Prime Minister certainly knows how to trigger his opponents.

Boris Johnson address conference
Boris Johnson address conference

The existence of BDS – Brexit Derangement Syndrome – has in the recent past been acknowledged by psychologists and discussed in the BMJ and New Scientist, it is considered a real thing. If you wonder who might suffer from it just look to see who was “outraged” by Boris Johnson’s speech to the Conservative Spring conference at the weekend.

You will then find a veritable roll-call of ardent remainiacs who, just at the mention of Brexit, dissolve into a pool of quivering jelly. Lemon Jelly, obviously, because they are still bitter.

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If a big red bus goes by BDS sufferers they imagine seeing “£350 million a week” in big white letters emblazoned across it (and yes, NHS spending has gone up since Brexit by more than that amount, even accounting for Covid). They are wrong of course, the words actually say, “you should have gone to Specsavers”.

Others think milkshakes are not for drinking but for throwing over politicians, while some put on bright blue suits and face paint and stand outside Parliaments and conference centres with megaphones as a fifth limb. They all need help.

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Boris Johnson just being himself is often enough to send some into orbit but this time he addressed the party faithful and now, stands accused of being crass, undiplomatic and of damaging statecraft when comparing the Ukrainians fighting for their freedom from Vladimir Putin with British people voting for Brexit.

Cue, “Light blue touchpaper and retreat”.

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The Tory Tobias Ellwood, Chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Defence said the comments, “damaged the standard of statecraft”. Oh my giddy aunt. Pass the smelling salts around the United Nations.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said that comparing Ukraine’s life-threatening situation with Brexit was “crass and distasteful”, and “shows just how dangerously obsessed the Tories are with Brexit”. Well, Ian Blackford certainly knows about dangerous obsessions given a day never appears to pass without him calling for another independence referendum. I suppose one person’s obsession can be another person’s revulsion.

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Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said, “To compare a referendum to women and children fleeing Putin’s bombs is an insult to every Ukrainian.” Well it might have been insulting, only the PM never remotely made that comparison. Another triggered by Johnson was Philippe Errera, political director at the French Foreign Ministry, who said, “If I were Ukrainian, I would feel insulted. If I were British, I would feel ashamed.”

I’m a Francophile, I lived in France for ten years, but I think if I were French I would feel ashamed my Government had broken the arms embargo on Russia by selling €152m of weapons to President Putin’s armed forces between 2015-2020. That’s 44 per cent of all European arms sold, with Germany coming second at €129 million. Britain didn’t even figure. Natch.

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Ukrainians insulted? I don’t think so. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky certainly doesn’t seem insulted (and who would know better?). He has repeatedly gone on public record praising Boris Johnson for all the support provided by the British Government while the other Europeans were in the queue to buy Putin’s gas.

Indeed, President Zelensky addressed the German Parliament last week and called the politicians out for repeatedly ignoring Ukraine’s warnings about the dangers of relying on Russian energy and failing to support Ukraine. As insults go Zelensky could give Boris Johnson lessons.

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The inconvenient fact is Johnson was making an entirely reasonable point about the similarities between the Ukrainian and British people in loving freedom. He in no way sought to diminish the gravity of the situation in the Ukraine nor make light of the everyday challenges of life and death that Ukrainians face.

The Brexit vote was mentioned – together with how so many British people volunteered for the Covid vaccine so they could regain their freedom from lockdowns – as examples of recent choices the British people had faced, saying they had chosen the path of freedom.

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Given the main theme of the Leave campaign in 2016 was “Take Back Control” the argument that many voted to do just that, to return democratic powers to the British Parliament is patently obvious. Further tangible evidence that a desire for freedom was at the heart of Britain’s choice in 2016 is how many who were active in the Leave campaign continue to believe there is unfinished business because one part of the United Kingdom remains under the diktat of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which gives legal powers to a foreign court situated in Luxembourg.

If one takes a step back from Brexit and asks why the Scottish people rejected the independence that was offered to them in 2014 it would surely be fair to conclude that in part, it was because they did not see it as a question of freedom. Enough people – a significant majority – believed they were British as well as Scottish and freedom was not at stake. On balance, having control over our domestic laws and public services made any Braveheart call for “Freedom” a daft joke. The idea Scots are subjugated, often put about by nationalists on social media, is just not generally accepted.

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Ironically if anyone has behaved crassly it is those nationalist politicians who, over the last few weeks, have sought to compare the fight to gain Scottish independence to that of Ukraine’s fight to keep its independence. Correspondingly this equates Russia seeking to subjugate the Ukraine with the UK subjugating Scotland, articulating the occasionally heard claim that Scotland is a colony of imperialist England. It is all risible, and when people have been dying at the hands Putin’s Grad missiles all the more reprehensible.

Those with BDS need help, Brexit happened, get over it. Slava Ukraini.

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Brian Monteith is editor of ThinkScotland and a former member of the Scottish and European Parliaments.

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