22 Feb 2017

Johnson in Hot Water over Brexit ‘liberation’ remark


UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has been accused of ‘bad taste’ by Swedish MEP Anna Maria Corazza Bildt for calling Brexit ‘liberation’ in an exchange caught on footage at the recent Munich Security Conference.

The footage shows the Swedish MEP taking Johnson to task over his choice of language during a panel discussion on the future of the West, which was followed by some applause. Bildt said:

“I would like to tell the foreign minister of the UK that the word liberation in the history of Europe has a very strong meaning. In these challenging times talking about liberating Britain from the European Union is just bad taste.”

With feathers, slightly ruffled but nevertheless undeterred, the Foreign Secretary responded in true “Boris” fashion: “I say, come on. 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 I’m afraid it’s an undeniable fact that we, the UK, has been unable to do, to run its own trade policy for 44 years. We now have an opportunity to do exactly that. I think people should be very proud and very excited by that and that is exactly what we are.”

Johnson continued on with his ‘rant’ against Bildt’s criticism by adding, “And I want to reclaim the English language, if I may. 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.”

His response was met with eye-rolling by the Swedish MEP who was clearly unimpressed by the Foreign Secretary’s comments. A clearly irritated Bildt then responded, “We are neither occupying you or a prison.”

And as we all now know; Boris Johnson is no stranger to controversy. Last month, Johnson had to be defended by Downing Street when he cautioned French President François Hollande to not “administer punishment beatings” in the style of “some World War Two movie”, in response to the UK’s exit from the European Union.  In addition to Downing Street, former education secretary Michael Gove also came to the foreign secretary’s aid by describing his World War terminology as a “witty metaphor.”

Only 24 hours prior to Johnson’s comments, UK Prime Minister Theresa May had warned her cabinet ministers in her Lancaster House speech to exercise caution, citing that “any stray word” could potentially make securing a Brexit deal more difficult.