On Thursday, Vladimir Putin ordered troops to enter Ukraine in an “all-out invasion”. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said 137 people had been killed, and 316 wounded so far, in the first day of the Russian invasion. Both Britain and the EU have condemned the invasion and vowed to support Ukraine.
Speaking on Twitter, Mr Neil was challenged on Russian influence in Brexit, after a Twitter user said the UK leaving the EU weakened Ukraine.
Twitter user medicalsystem23 said to the former GB News host: “You leave voters must surely feel a bit of guilt.
“Gift Putin Brexit just like he wanted making the UK and EU weaker and less able to absorb the cost of sanctions. Sanctions are not all one way.”
In a fiery put down, Mr Neil said: “Your insufferable arrogance in assuming to know how I voted in the Brexit referendum — or even if I voted — should not detract from your excellent point: without Brexit, Putin’s tanks would not be rolling to Ukraine. Obvs.”
Writer Marcus Chown said on Twitter the vote for Brexit was “a vote for Putin”.
He wrote: “Unfortunately, a vote for Brexit was a vote for Putin to invade Ukraine because it weakened the Western alliance and emboldened Putin.
“Putin’s people engineered this by bankrolling the Conservative Party and the Brexit campaign, which is why Johnson has hidden the Russia Report.”
The ‘Russia report’ was released in July 2020, but was heavily redacted.
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Former civil servant Siobhan Benita agreed and suggested it was a “shame that all those patriots who voted for Brexit didn’t ask a few more questions about why Russia was so keen for the UK to leave the European Union”.
Responding to Mr Chown, Twitter user Gregor Schwayer wrote: “Because the response of the then united West was famously so ironclad during the Crimea crisis, that the Russian troops dispersed and Ukraines claim on the Peninsula has never been questioned by Russia again.
“Oh wait… Maybe not everything is about Brexit.”
While Mr Neil has never confirmed how he voted in the Brexit referendum, he wrote in December that Boris Johnson is not “making the most of our freedom” from the EU.
He said: “For those who want to bring their companies to market and raise capital, Britain is easily the largest market in Europe, again behind only America and China. Clearly Brexit has deterred none of this.
“It shows the promise that awaits if we ever get around to creating the sort of light-touch regulatory environment in which the technologies and entrepreneurs of tomorrow will feel welcome.
“If we fail, it will be because the current Johnson Government, despite being full of those who led the Brexit charge from the top down, in 2021 inexplicably rushed headlong in the wrong direction.”
Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum remains unproven, however multiple sources suggest Moscow attempted to intervene in the campaign.
In July 2020, the ‘Russia report’ from Parliament’s Intelligence and Security committee found the Government failed to conduct any proper assessment of Kremlin attempts to interfere with the Brexit referendum.
The document said the Government “had not seen or sought evidence of successful interference in UK democratic processes” at the time, and it made clear that no serious effort was made to do so.
Stewart Hosie, a SNP MP who sits on the cross-party committee, said at the time: “The report reveals that no one in Government knew if Russia interfered in or sought to influence the referendum because they did not want to know.
“The UK Government have actively avoided looking for evidence that Russia interfered. We were told that they hadn’t seen any evidence, but that is meaningless if they hadn’t looked for it.”