During the run-up to the referendum, some ardent Remainers attempted to brand the EU as a Great European Peace Project. Chuka Umunna, the former Labour MP turned investment banker, pushed this line in a radio debate I took part in with him. I made the usual pro-Leave point about Nato being the key international body guaranteeing peace in Europe, but conceded that Germany and France having a joint political project to focus on may have made a useful additional contribution. This enabled the additional point to be aired that the idea they would start a war against each other should the UK leave the EU was preposterous. Being a generally reasonable fellow, Umunna conceded as much and the debate moved on to other areas.
Other than when David Cameron appeared to suggest in the campaign proper that Britain’s departure might hasten the onset of World War Three and was roundly mocked as a result, this aspect of the Brexit argument never really took centre stage.
But more than six years after the referendum – and exactly three years after our formal departure from the EU – there are still pro-Brussels voices to be found who will stretch the point to absurdity.
Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian PM, long-serving senior MEP and true believer in the European Project, this week doubled-down on Dave’s mid-campaign hyperbole by suggesting Brexit may have led to the war between Russia and Ukraine. He 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.’
This claim is such a stretch that it is hard even to fathom what transmission mechanism Verhofstadt has in mind that could have led from 17.4 million British votes to Leave in June 2016 to Russian tanks rolling across the Ukraine border in February 2022.
Possibly he is seeking to argue that just the spectacle of Europe’s two leading defence powers – the UK and France – bickering over EU divorce terms led Putin to think an opportunity was opening up.