If the US presidential election has devolved into a comical soundbite free-for-fall, then the UK has its hands full with Brexit, and how the two opposing camps are approaching the UK's vote to exit the Eurozone on June 23.
On one hand there are the fearmongers who comprise the "stay" campaign, among which such glowing examples as PM David Cameron who last week warned World War III could break out in case of an affirmative vote, followed shortly after by BOE governor Mark Carney warning of recession risk and a sharp plunge in Sterling, while the IMF's Christine Lagarde likewise chiming in in defense of the status quo.
On the other hand, those in the pro-Brexit "leave" camp have been riding the recent wave of anti-immigrant sentiment sweeping Europe, and have been pushing to portray the increasingly shaky European Union (whose customs union may or may not survive another refugee onslaught) as the reason for UK economic weakness.
This culminated today when ex-London mayor Boris Johnson compared the European Union's aims to those of Adolf Hitler, arguing that the 28-nation bloc is creating a superstate that mirrors the attempt of the Nazi leader to dominate the European continent.
As AP reports, Johnson, the most prominent political figure arguing that Britain should leave the EU, says the past 2,000 years of European history have been dominated by doomed attempts to unify the continent and recreate the Romans' golden age.
"The whole thing began with the Roman Empire. I wrote a book on this subject, and I think it’s probably right. The truth is that the history of the last couple of thousand years has been broadly repeated attempts by various people or institutions – in a Freudian way – to rediscover the lost childhood of Europe, this golden age of peace and prosperity under the Romans, by trying to unify it. Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically."
He added that "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."
While Johnson is correct that Europe desperately needs a loyalty and patriotism ethos, one which is impossible in a union where the political oligarchy remains a group of unelected Brussels bureaucrats even as nationalist tensions have been rising dramatically in the EU's member states especially over the past year, it was unclear if the Hitler comparison would cross the chasm to convert any of the substantial number of undecided voters, or merely be lost within the two camps' respective echo chambers.
To be sure, Johnson's remarks immediately elicited outrage on the part of those campaigning to remain in the EU ahead of a June 23 vote in Britain on whether to stay or leave. The "stay" camp described Johnson's comments as a desperate effort take the focus off the economic impact such a rupture would create and on to the more populist theme of sovereignty issues.
"Leave campaigners have lost the economic argument and now they are losing their moral compass," said Hilary Benn, a senior member of the Labour Party. "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."
On the other hand, Johnson's allies backed him in that analysis and also used media appearances to criticize Mark Carney for the BOE’s warning of the economic consequences of a vote to leave, forcing the governor to defend his actions.
As Bloomberg reports, the former Goldman partner responded during the BBC's Andrew Marr shows, saying "if we’re potentially going to alter the path of interest rates or other instruments of monetary policy because of certain things manifested, we have a duty to explain that to the British people and to Parliament. The bank’s comments on these issues have been in the context of testimony to the House of Lords, testimony to the Commons committees, and inflation reports and associated press conferences around those reports, so it’s in our daily business.”
He spoke days after Conservative lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg told Sky News that the governor “should be fired,” and minutes after the Conservative energy minister, Andrea Leadsom, described the BOE’s comments last week as “incredibly dangerous.”
Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative former work and pensions secretary who is campaigning to leave, added his voice to the criticism, saying on the BBC’s Sunday Politics show that the governor should explain to Parliament’s Treasury Committee why he hasn’t presented both sides of the matter.
By shifting to the sovereignty issue, Johnson is changing tack, and tapping into the deep-seated concerns of many Britons who believe that bureaucrats in Brussels have seized too much control over their everyday lives. By evoking World War II, Johnson has reminded much of the country of its "finest hour", the moment that the nation acted as the bulwark to halt Nazi tyranny.
According to AP, Johnson' attention-grabbing tactics have also underscored his ability tap into the popular mood, and his comments Sunday are likely to appeal to the patriotic sentiments of those who have not yet made up their minds on the vote. Johnson's self-deprecating manner and jokey persona often seizes the public's imagination, a factor that makes him a leading contender to succeed fellow Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, the leader of the "stay" campaign.
Another leading figure in the "out" campaign, the nationalist UKIP party leader Nigel Farage, compared Johnson to former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and rejected suggestions he wasn't serious enough to be Britain's prime minister.
"Boris goes on surprising people," Farage told the Mail on Sunday. "They say he can't do this, he's a joker — it's like Ronnie Reagan. Could he do it? Yes."
Another person who keeps on surprising the media, and all his naysayers in similar fashion: Donald Trump.