In a sharply aimed remark, the former mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has said that the EU's intends to create a powerful superstate, just as Hitler did in the 1940s. In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, the Conservative member of parliament accused the European bureaucrats in Brussels of using the same techniques as the Nazi dictator to place Europe under a single "authority".

Johnson, the figurehead of the anti-EU Leave campaign, said: "Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out [unifying Europe], and it ends tragically. The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods.

"But 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."

Responding to Johnson's contentious remarks, Labour MP Yvette Cooper of the Remain campaign said: "The more he [Johnson] flails around with this kind of hysterical claim, the more he exposes his shameful lack of judgement, his willingness to play the most divisive cynical politics, and the emptiness of his argument.

"One week it is dog-whistle attacks on President [Barack] Obama. Now he is trying to liken the institution that has kept peace on our continent for decades with Hitler, who pursued the genocide of millions of innocent people… He should not try to play political games with the darkest and most sinister chapter of Europe's history."

Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn also criticised Johnson, saying: "Leave campaigners have lost the economic argument and now they are losing their moral compass. 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."

Tory leadership test

The comments from the pro-Brexit Tory MP come six weeks before the 23 June referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union, in which polls are suggesting opinion is evenly split.

The referendum by British voters on whether the UK should continue to be a member of the EU is also seen as a test of the Prime Minister David Cameron's leadership of the country and the Conservative Party.

Cameron – who is campaigning for the UK to stay in the EU – has said that he will stand down as prime minister, and as the leader of the Conservatives, after the 2020 general election. However, pro-Brexit critics have said he should resign immediately should the Leave campaign wins the referendum.

Johnson, whose eccentric and clownish antics have made him very popular amongst voters, is widely tipped to replace Cameron as the leader of Tories and as a potential prime minister.

Boris Johnson EU referendum Hitler
Former London Mayor accuses Brussels bureaucrats of using Nazi dictator's techniques Darren Staples/Reuters