Johnson contrasts Italy, Germany with 'freedom-loving' UK
He was responding to criticism that the UK's contact tracing and testing programme is not working well enough in the face of a surge in cases of Covid-19.
Johnson rejected his argument, adding: "Actually there is an important difference between our country and many other countries around the world, that is that our country is a freedom-loving country.
"If you look at the history of this country over the last 300 years, virtually every advance from free speech to democracy has come from this country.
"And it is very difficult to ask the British population uniformly to obey guidelines in the way that it is necessary."
The Conservative leader was in the House of Commons to set out new restrictions to deal with a surge in virus cases.
They included early closing time for pubs and a resumption of advice for people to work from home, coupled with new penalties for breaking the rules.
"What we're saying today is that collectively the way to do this is for us all to follow the guidelines which we will strictly enforce and get the R (reproduction rate) down," Johnson said.
Italy was the first country outside China to face a major coronavirus outbreak, but has managed to keep infection rates relatively low compared to Spain, France and Britain.
Germany has had more success in suppressing the virus, partly thanks to mass testing and rigorous contact tracing, although numbers are also climbing again.