European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt accused British Eurosceptics of destroying Winston Churchill’s legacy in Strasbourg on Tuesday.
The well-known federalist told MEPs that the former British prime minister would have opposed Brexit at the referendum, before calling for a raft of reforms which would strengthen Brussels’s power.
The row broke out at a debate on the future of the European Union (EU) after UKIP MEP and former leader Nigel Farage said Verhofstadt’s vision of “more Europe” lacks popular support, speaking of “the global revolution of 2016; Brexit, Trump, [and] the Italian rejection of the referendum”.
“Mr Verhofstadt this morning said that people want more Europe; they don’t. The people want less Europe. And we see this again and again when people have referendums and they reject aspects of EU membership,” Mr. Farage said.
The former Belgian Prime Minister hit back, telling MEPs: “The Eurosceptics in this house can twist and turn the words from the British Bulldog all they want. It is a fact that they have professionally squandered Winston Churchill’s legacy.
“Churchill, the British bulldog, made it very clear what he wanted”, Verhofstadt added, quoting the former Prime Minister as having said: “I present the idea of a united Europe in which all countries [including] Britain will play a decisive part as a member of the European family.”
Among the reforms proposed by the liberal politician include creating a ‘government’ for the Eurozone with the power to levy taxes, bolstered defence capability for the bloc — which critics warn is the first step towards an EU army – and an end to opt-outs such as those Britain enjoys with regards to asylum.
“The Brexit, Trump, Putin: more than enough reasons to reform the Union. To do it now, and to do it profoundly,” Verhofstadt said.
Conservative MEP for South West England and Gibraltar Ashley Fox condemned the Belgian politician’s vision for the bloc, stating: “Whatever the question is, [Verhofstadt’s] the answer is always the same; more Europe. So he calls for the Commission to be the EU government and for parliament to have the power to levy taxes on EU citizens.
“Instead of listening to people this report is telling them that Brussels knows best,” Fox said, “The EU has to change but not like this.”
Independent MEP for South East England Janet Atkinson took to Twitter to condemn Verhofstadt, accusing him of “misrepresenting” Churchill.
— Janice Atkinson (@Janice4Brexit) February 14, 2017
Claims that the former prime minister would have wanted Britain to remain in the EU have been contested by a number of Eurosceptic figures including Brexit minister David Davis, who pointed out that Churchill supported the creation of a United States of Europe with the important caveat that Britain should remain apart from a new continental alliance.
On ‘The United States of Europe’, in 1938 Britain’s most famous wartime prime minister wrote: “We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked, but not comprised. We are interested and associated, but not absorbed.
“And should European statesmen address us in the words which were used of old, ‘Wouldest thou be spoken for to the king, or the captain of host?,’ we should reply, with the Shunammite woman: ‘Nay Sir, for I dwell among mine own people’.”