Guy Verhofstadt: Who is the diehard Europhile who has been appointed as EU's chief Brexit negotiator?

From describing David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage as 'rats fleeing a sinking ship' to reportedly being banned from entering Russia, he has often found himself in the spotlight

Maya Oppenheim
Wednesday 14 September 2016 16:06 BST
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Farage is less than happy about Mr Verhofstadt appointment as Brexit negotiator
Farage is less than happy about Mr Verhofstadt appointment as Brexit negotiator

It would be fair to say Guy Verhofstadt is the last person the Leave camp could have hoped to be appointed as lead Brexit negotiator of the European Parliament. The former Prime Minister of Belgium is a staunch advocate of the EU and has frequently made his anti-Brexit views known.

Most recently, the straight-talking Flemish Belgian politician found himself in the limelight for his much-publicised description of David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage as “rats fleeing a sinking ship” following their resignations after Britain voted to leave the EU.

Throughout his time in the European Parliament, the 63-year-old EU veteran has found himself in dispute with Nigel Farage. The former UKIP leader recently dubbed Mr Verhofstadt a “fanatic” and said the EU had “declared war” on Britain by his appointing him as chief Brexit negotiator.

But who is the man who became an MEP after heading three governments over almost a decade selected to help lead Britain out of the EU?

He rapidly shot through the party ranks

Born in 1953 in the Belgian city of Dendermonde, he became involved in student politics while studying law at the University of Ghent, becoming the president of the Liberal Flemish Student's union.

He quickly rose through the political ranks to become the President of his party in 1982 at the age of just 29.

He was known as ‘baby Thatcher’

In 1985 he became Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Budget under Prime Minister Wilfried Martens and was christened “Baby Thatcher” because of his laissez-faire, free market views.

Nevertheless, his political views quickly changed as he moved away from the neoliberal politics he previously held dearly, and towards the centre-ground. This became particularly clear during his first term as Prime Minister.

Serving as the Belgian Prime Minster between 1999 and 2008, he was the first liberal Prime Minister in Belgium since 1884, defeating the Socialists and Christian Democrats.

Since 2009 he has served as a Member of the European Parliament where he is the leader of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

He is expected to make it difficult for Britain to leave the EU

An avid tweeter, Mr Verhofstadt has posted frankly and forthrightly about the fact he is not keen to allow Britain access to the single market without accepting the free movement of EU citizens.

“If UK wants access to #SingleMarket, it must also accept the free movement of citizens. Our four freedoms are inseparable,” he wrote on Tuesday morning.

He does not appear to get along with Mr Farage

Mr Farage is less than happy about Mr Verhofstadt's appointment as Brexit negotiator.

"On behalf of the European Parliament, we've got Guy Verhofstadt. He's the man who is going to be negotiating Brexit," he said in Strasbourg in France on Wednesday.

“If you were to think of this building [the EU Parliament] as a temple, well, Mr Verhofstadt is the high priest. A fanatic. In fact, there is only really one nationalist in this room and it's you [Verhofstadt] because you want flags, anthems, armies... you are an EU nationalist.

In a similar vein, Mr Verhofstadt has been less than effusive about Mr Farage on past occasions. In June, he accused him of lying about migration, Turkey and the NHS in a heated European Parliament debate. He said: “Finally we will be getting rid of the biggest waste in the EU budget – that we have paid for 17 years of your salary.”

He is reported to be blacklisted from entering Russia

In May 2015, media reported Mr Verhofstadt had been included in a Russian blacklist of European Union politicians barred from entering Russia. His spokesman Jeroen Reijnen told AFP he was on the list.

“Mr Verhofstadt is banned from entry to Russia. He is on a blacklist with around 80 people,” Reijnen claimed, saying the ban came after Verhofstadt called for an independent international probe into the murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

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