London: Vladimir Putin would never have invaded Ukraine if Britain had not voted for Brexit, Guy Verhofstadt said on Tuesday on the third anniversary of Britain’s departure from the EU.
Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit boss during UK-EU negotiations, told LBC: “A united Europe, certainly on defence matters, would make an enormous difference. I think maybe that without Brexit, maybe there was no invasion. I don’t know.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin.Credit:AP
A day earlier, he said he had a “dream” that the UK and Ukraine could join the EU in the next five years.
“Let’s hope that Britain can rejoin and let’s hope that Ukraine can join and why not within five years?” he said.
“Maybe it’s a little bit optimistic concerning the UK but my feeling is when the last time when I was in London, that for the first time in the public opinion in Britain, people understand that Brexit was a wrong choice and that it has done a lot of damage to Europe and certainly to the UK.”
Gavin Barwell, Theresa May’s former chief of staff when she was prime minister, said Verhofstadt missed the mark.
“Putin will certainly have celebrated Brexit because it was bound to distract the UK and EU for a few years and create some rancour between them, but as usual Verhofstadt goes too far,” he said.
Barwell pointed out on Twitter that Putin launched his first invasion of Ukraine in 2014, two years before the Brexit referendum.
Verhofstadt, a former prime minister of Belgium, has long called for an EU army to deter autocrats like Putin.
In 2018, he called for the EU to make itself capable of launching missile strikes after Britain, France and the US attacked Syria.
Former European Parliament Brexit chief Guy Verhofstadt.Credit:AP
“This war, this brutal invasion started with Putin and Russia,” he said. “It’s really an attempt by Putin to restore the old Soviet Union. The only difference is the communist party is replaced with his own cronies.”
Downing Street rejected Verhofstadt’s comments.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine has nothing to do with Brexit. In fact, I think the invasion has demonstrated the UK’s commitment to European security.
“We have been working extremely closely with our European allies, which is a tangible demonstration of the UK’s continued commitment to the security of the continent – that will not change.”
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