The European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator has accused British eurosceptics of destroying Winston Churchill’s legacy by taking the UK out of the EU.
Guy Verhofstadt today (14 January) told MEPs in the European Parliament in Strasbourg that Churchill would have voted Remain in the referendum, before calling for post-Brexit reforms including a eurozone government with a finance minister and the ability to levy taxes on citizens.
The former Belgian prime minister also backed a bolstered defence capability for the bloc, which critics fear is the first step towards an EU army.
Nigel Farage, former UKIP leader and MEP, said, “I feel like I’m attending a meeting of a religious sect here this morning. It’s as if the global revolution of 2016; Brexit, Trump, the Italian rejection of the referendum, has completely bypassed you.
“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.”
“The fact is the European Union has no future at all in its current form and I suspect you’re in for as big a shock in 2017 as you were in 2016,” he added.
“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,” said Verhofstadt, who will wield an influential role in the Brexit negotiations.
Winston the europhile?
The leader of the liberal ALDE group said that Churchill’s famous speech at the University of Zurich, where he mooted a United States of Europe, was just one example of the wartime leader’s pro-EU leanings.
Churchill is revered in Britain and both Remainers and Leavers claimed he would support their side in the UK’s June referendum on EU membership.
Verhofstadt added, “In May 1947, in the Albert Hall in London Churchill, the British Bulldog, made it very clear what he wanted. And I quote: “I present the idea of a United Europe in which our country will play a decisive part. (…) as a member of the European family.
“Yes, the Tories were openly pro-European at that time.”
Ashley Fox, Conservative MEP for South West England and Gibraltar, hit back. “Britain did not vote to leave because there is not enough Europe,” he responded.
“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,” Ashley said, “The EU has to change but not like this.”
Verhofstadt was speaking at a debate on the future of the EU and has written a report on reforms to the bloc. The report is the European Parliament’s first step in a discussion on how to reform the EU after Brexit.
The 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome will be celebrated next month and the EU’s future will figure highly in talks between European leaders on 25 March.
March is also the deadline for British Prime Minister Theresa May to trigger Article 50, the legal process taking Britain out of the EU.
“The Brexit, Trump, Putin: more than enough reasons to reform the Union. To do it now, and to do it profoundly,” Verhofstadt said.
“Let’s face the reality. The Union is in crisis. The European Union doesn’t have many friends: not at home, not abroad. The Union does not deliver anymore. Rather than to talk about an ‘ever closer union’, we have a union of ‘too little too late’.”
“That’s why people are angry: they see all these European institutions, all these summits, all these empty words but they don’t see enough results,” Verhofstadt said.
“The European people want a Europe that delivers. A Europe that solves the refugee crisis, that secures our borders, and gets us out of this economic stagnation.”
Verhofstadt‘s report recommends slimming down the European Commission and losing one of the two seats of the European Parliament. The Parliament sits in both Brussels and Strasbourg, France, which is regularly criticised as a massive waste of time and money. It also calls for an end to opt-outs such as those enjoyed by the UK on asylum.
The European Commission said it would look at the report, but any reforms must first be put forward by the executive for approval by MEPs and member states.