Former Conservative prime minister Sir John Major has advised Theresa May against calling a general election and suggested a ‘time-limited unity government’ might required to help solve Brexit.
Sir John said it was ‘very unlikely’ an election would produce a government with a clear working majority while a national unity government was not imminent.
Outlining how to approach the Brexit issues, he told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show: ‘If we have a general election in the autumn, which I think is possible not certain, and we don’t get a government with a clear majority then I think it would be in the national interest to have a cross-party government so that we can take decisions without the chaos that we’re seeing in parliament at the moment where every possible alternative is rejected.’
Asked for his advice to May about whether or not she should call an election this week, Sir John replied: ‘Don’t. I mean don’t for a whole range of reasons.
‘The prime minister is blocked in on every side, I utterly can empathise with her frustration but I think a general election will solve nothing at this moment.’
He went on: ‘When feelings are running high, I think a general election is pretty much the very last thing we need. We might be driven to it later but now is certainly not the moment.’
He said he suspects MPs may add ‘something relating to the customs union and alignment to the single market’ to May’s deal, noting: ‘If they add that to her deal, it’s not perfect, it’s far from perfect… I think it could go through and it might be the least bad option in the circumstances we’re in other than reversing the whole thing.’
Sir John said the best way forward is ‘not to wreck the British economy’, the country’s international reputation or constitutional relationships via a no-deal Brexit, adding the customs union and single market additions are the potential compromise.
He went on: ‘I think if you did that, it’d be very wise in the long-term to put that to the nation so they can decide whether or not they wish that, or whether they’re prepared for something else.
‘Let me make it clear: whatever choices the prime minister and the cabinet make, a lot of people are going to be upset about it and it is a time for people to try and restore the sort of civilised debate and exchanges that were symptomatic of the House of Commons and more recently have not been.’
On those Conservative MPs outlining their leadership ambitions, Sir John said: ‘I think they should concentrate on the decision we should make next week, not who is going to be prime minister at some future stage.
‘I find it extraordinarily odd that there are people who decided that the prime minister’s deal was going to turn us into a vassal state and they voted against it. Once it is apparent there’s going to be a leadership election and one of them might become prime minister, the question of a vassal state disappears and they support it.
‘I think the public will be very cynical about that.
‘I don’t know when the prime minister will go and nobody can be certain… but when we elect a new prime minister I think it has to be someone who can be a national leader, not a factional leader and I think that does disqualify a number of candidates.’
He added the UK will always have a centre-right party and a centre-left party, adding: ‘Whether that’s exactly the same Conservative Party as we have now or not, I can’t be certain – but that there will be a Conservative party on the centre-right of politics, but it needs to be at the centre-right if it wishes to win, not the far-right.’