The European Parliament’s Brexit chief has branded leading Brexiteers as pro-Putin “fifth columnists” who want to destroy Europe from within.
Guy Verhofstadt said there was a “circle of evil around our continent” stretching from “Putin, Erdogan, and on a bad day – and that’s every day at the moment – even Trump”.
But turning to Europe’s populist right-wing parties, he added: “But our problem runs deeper than that, deeper than only foreign policy or external security. Europe has a fifth column in its ranks. Let’s be honest.
“I call them the cheerleaders of Putin: Le Pen, Wilders, Farage. They’re doing only one thing: they take Kremlin money, they take Kremlin intelligence.
“Like Arron Banks, the good friend of Nigel Farage here, who colluded with Russians to make Brexit happen. Together with government leaders like Orbàn, Kaczynski, Salvini: these people have only one goal and that is to destroy Europe, to kill our liberal democracy.”
Mr Farage said the claims were a “baseless lie”.
Wealthy Brexit-funding businessman Arron Banks told a Commons committee on Tuesday he had “done no business deals in Russia”. That hearing came after a leaked cache of emails from Mr Banks suggested that his contacts with Russian officials in the UK were deeper than previously thought.
The other names cited by the MEP are leaders or senior ministers of the populist governments of Hungary, Poland, and Italy, as well as insurgent politicians in France and the Netherlands.
Mr Verhofstadt, the leader of the parliament’s liberal group, is also responsible for the body’s role in Brexit talks.
He said it was “time to wake up” when the US president was “more comfortable with autocrats than with his European allies”.
“The inconvenient truth is that we are on our own today. If there is an attack on European soil, we cannot be sure anymore that America will come and save us. So it’s about time we take our own responsibility,” he said, adding that Europe needed to develop its own defence capability.
Mr Verhofstadt made the comments during a debate about the future of Europe with Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte at the European Parliament’s second base in Strasbourg.
Mr Rutte also touched on Brexit in his speech, stating that “sadly, Brexit will leave a big hole in our circle”.
The Dutch PM however said the rest of Europe’s resolve was strengthened by Britain’s departure, adding: “The only positive effect is that it has made the other 27 member states even more aware of the important of unity and working together.”
Reacting to Mr Verhofstadt’s speech, Nigel Farage tweeted: “This is a baseless lie. I have never received any Russian financial or political support. I suggest you withdraw.”
Ukip MEP Ray Finch said: “EU federalist fanatic Guy Verhofstadt is just lashing out, incapable or unwilling to accept that the British people voted to leave the EU. Calling 17.4 million people ‘Putin’s puppets’ is so outlandish I fully expect him to blame it on the influence of singer Iggy Pop or the lunar cycle. He is an EU conspiracy theorist who deserves our pity. Funny he did not mention his great friend George Soros who has publicly pumped billions into political campaigning.”