Verhofstadt claims to know that Churchill would have voted to keep Britain in the EU. He quoted Churchill as saying “I present the idea of a United Europe in which our country will play a decisive part. (…) as a member of the European family.” He also added: “Eurosceptics can twist the words from the British Bulldog all they want. But they have squandered Churchill’s legacy.”
But what did Churchill actually say, and does it truly justify the current EU?
Decide for yourself:
“There are several important bodies which are working directly for the federation of the European States and for the creation of a Federal Constitution for Europe. I hope that may eventually be achieved. There is also the movement associated with Mr. Van Zeeland for the economic integration of Europe. With all these movements we have the most friendly relations. We shall all help each other all we can because we all go the same way home. It is not for us at this stage to attempt to define or prescribe the structure of constitutions. We ourselves are content, in the first instance, to present the idea of a united Europe, in which our country will play a decisive part, as a moral, cultural and spiritual conception to which all can rally without being disturbed by divergencies about structure. It is for the responsible statesmen, who have the conduct of affairs in their hands and the power over executive action, to shape and fashion the structure. It is for us to lay the foundation, to create atmosphere and give the driving impulsion.” – Sir Winston Churchill, May 14th 1947
Churchill is clear on the matter of cooperation, as he was the year before in Zurich. However, he does not specify how that cooperation had to be constructed. Both sides of the argument on Brexit prey on that ambiguity. Neither side of the debate on Brexit is able to lay claim to Churchill. Neither should. His words were of a different era, in a different context, yet they are still very valuable to learn from.
However, when talking about a united Europe as a “moral, cultural and spiritual conception”, Churchill probably did not mean the technocratic, self-serving, navel gazing bureaucracy Verhofstadt is rooting for. This is precisely the problem with opportunists like Verhofstadt. They see a fancy quote and just go for it.