Former Conservative prime minister John Major has savaged the Brexit project warning that Britain is “no longer a great power” and “will never be so again”.
In a pre-recorded lecture at Middle Temple the former MP claimed “even more brutal than expected” due to the UK’s negotiating “failures” and warned of its impact on Britain’s standing in the world.
The vocal supporter of Remain said: “In a world of nearly eight billion people, well under 1% are British.
“We are a top second-rank power but, over the next half-century, however well we perform, our small size and population makes it likely we will be passed by the growth of other, far larger countries.
“In recent decades, we have consoled ourselves that we ‘punch above our weight’ in international affairs. I think that was true – but that was then and this is now.
“Our hefty international influence rested on our history and reputation, buttressed by our membership of the European Union and our close alliance with the United States.”
And the former Tory leader hit out at the false premises that were sold to the British public to secure a Leave vote.
He explained: “Brexit was sold to our electors on false premises. Promises made will not – indeed, cannot – be kept. To leave the EU – to separate ourselves from our neighbours – was sold as ‘regaining sovereignty’, but it is, and will prove to be, a long and painful ball and chain on our national wellbeing.
“After the Referendum, Brexiteers did not even bother to argue the merits of their case – why should they? – it was ‘the will of the people’. And once ‘the will of the people’ was asserted as a repeated mantra – and the Brexit leaders claimed to speak for all ‘the people’ – any opposition to Brexit became illegitimate, and any contrary view was howled down.”
He continued: “‘Free speech for those who supported remaining in the EU came at a price. They were pilloried as ‘Remoaners’: sticking to long-held principles and policies, and warning of clear dangers ahead was depicted as ‘sour grapes by sore losers’.
“Even judges were denounced as ‘Enemies of the People’ for ruling on a point of law. Opponents of Brexit were cowed, and free speech was curtailed. It was shameful. No democracy should find itself in such a position.
“Overseas, the outcome of the referendum delighted our enemies and dismayed our friends. As our nation voted against its history and its self-interest, a bemused world looked on, wondering why we had chosen to become poorer and less influential.”
And recounting some of the promises told by Boris Johnson and the Vote Leave camp, he said: “Brexit was sold to the nation as a win-win situation. It is not.
“We were promised we would stay in the Single Market. We have not. We were told trade with the EU would be frictionless. It will not be.
“We were promised we would save billions in payments to the European Union: a bus was driven around the country telling us so. Not so: Brexit is costing billions – not saving them.
“We were told that our ‘liberated country’ could cut back on bureaucracy and regulations. We now know they will increase – and dramatically.
“We were promised we would strike lucrative trade deals with America, India, China and others in quick time. Japan apart – we have not.”
And attacking the government’s Internal Market Bill, he added: “More recently – and for the first time in our long history – Ministers have proposed legislation giving them powers to break the law. This is a slippery slope down which no democratic government should ever travel.
“And, it was claimed, Brexit wouldn’t increase support for Scottish independence or a united Ireland. It has. It defies logic that intelligent men and women making such extravagant promises did not know they were undeliverable – and yet they continued to make them. It was politics. It was campaigning. It was for a cause. It was also unforgivable.
“If that is how we are going to conduct our public affairs, then not only will our politics truly fall into a bad place, but our word as a nation will no longer be trusted.”