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Rishi Sunak distances himself from Boris Johnson’s Ukraine-Brexit comments

Rishi Sunak has distanced himself from Boris Johnson’s comparison of the Ukraine war with Brexit, saying the two situations are “not directly analogous”.

Mr Johnson’s comments in a speech to the Conservative spring conference in Blackpool sparked fury, with one European statesmen branding it “disgraceful” and another describing it as offensive to those fighting the Russian invasion.

There were calls for the prime minister to be excluded from this week’s European Council meeting, where Mr Johnson is hoping to join EU leaders to discuss the Ukraine crisis with US president Joe Biden.

In an awkward exchange on Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, the chancellor declined to repeat the parallel made by the prime minister, insisting that Mr Johnson himself had not intended to draw a direct comparison.

“I don’t think those two situations are directly analogous,” said Mr Sunak. “Clearly they are not directly analogous and I don’t think the prime minister was saying they are directly analogous.”

Mr Sunak was shown footage of Mr Johnson’s speech, in which the PM said that the world faced a moment of choice between “freedom and oppression” and criticised those who believe it is necessary to “make accommodations with tyranny”.

He continued: “I know that it’s the instinct of the people of this country, like the people of Ukraine, to choose freedom every time.

“When the British people voted for Brexit in such large, large numbers, I don’t believe it was because they were remotely hostile to foreigners. It’s because they wanted to be free to do things differently and for this country to be able to run itself.”

His comments – apparently drawing a parallel between membership of the EU and Russian “tyranny” – came just days after Ukraine officially applied for EU membership.

Asked whether he would have used the prime minister’s words, Mr Sunak indicated he would not, adding: “I don’t think the prime minister did either.”

Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, called on Mr Johnson to apologise for his “crass” remarks.

Ms Reeves told Ridge on Sunday: “It is utterly distasteful and insulting to compare the fight for freedom against the aggression of the Russian state to the decision to leave the EU.

“It is insulting to the Ukrainian people, who are fighting for their very freedom and their very lives, and it is insulting to the British people as well.

“If the prime minister didn’t mean that analogy, he shouldn’t have made it and he should take those words back and apologise to the Ukrainian people and the British people for those crass remarks.”

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