Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt said Churchill would 'regret' Brexit
The liberal MEP suggested that the UK’s heroic wartime prime minister would have backed Remain in last summer’s referendum and described him as a “founding father” of the EU.
Mr Verhofstadt, himself a former prime minister of Belgium, will head up the European Parliament’s negotiating team throughout the process of Britain’s divorce from the bloc.
In a posting on his Facebook page he said that the legendary leader was a “federalist” who had “led the battle for a united Europe” because he believed Brussels would keep peace on the continent.
He made the remarks after reading a book by the American-Dutch historian Felix Klos about Sir Winston’s attempts to take the UK into the predecessor of the European Union after the Second World War.
The Tory politician, who lost a general election to Labour in 1955, attempted to persuade MPs to vote to join the European Coal and Steel Community a few years later but was narrowly defeated.
Britain would not go on to join the European project until 1973, when then Tory prime minister Edward Heath took the country into the European Economic Community, a predecessor to the EU.
Sir Winston once called for a 'kind of United States of Europe'
Mr Verhofstadt wrote: “Churchill was a federalist. He led the battle for a united Europe.
“In contradiction to what eurosceptics often say, he wanted the UK to be an integral part of the European integration project."
He added: “His main arguments were that it would create peace, welfare and was the only way to ensure that Germany would not become dominant again.
“He was one of the Founding Fathers of the European project. I am sure he would have deeply regretted Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.”
I am sure he would have deeply regretted Britain’s decision to leave the European Union
Get Quotes on Home Insurance
Sir Winston’s political views became an unlikely feature of Britain’s EU referendum campaign, with the EU Commission listing him as one of the project’s “founding fathers” in an official document.
Eurocrats reproduced an oft-quoted speech of the former prime minister’s to students at the University of Zurich in 1946, in which he called for “a kind of United States of Europe”.
In the speech Sir Winston said: “There is a remedy which would in a few years make all Europe free and happy.
“It is to re-create the European family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom.
“We must build a kind of United States of Europe.”
Winston Churchill in pictures
Sun, May 10, 2015
Winston Churchill died in January 24, 1965
1 of 43
Sir Winston Churchill shows the peace sign while smoking a cigar in 1954
However, a fierce academic debate has raged over what exactly the then prime minister meant by the phrase ‘United States of Europe’, with some urging that the speech be treated with caution.
In a January 2014 blog post, before the EU referendum was announced, Dr Rob Havers, the Executive Director of the National Churchill Museum, urged former PM David Cameron not to abuse it to push a pro-Europe agenda.
He wrote: “Churchill of course is well known for his foresight on many issues but often that wisdom can be miss-construed in the contemporary world.
“When Churchill called for a United States of Europe he did so without a firm idea of what that might look like and, far more saliently as far as the contemporary world is concerned, nor did he specify exactly what the role of the United Kingdom would be, if any, in that unity.
“We should treat with caution contemporary claims about following Churchill’s lead.”