John Major says Boris Johnson has ‘destroyed’ chances of opposition support for a deal

Prime minister Boris Johnson in Downing Street. Photograph: David Mirzoeff/PA Wire.

Prime minister Boris Johnson in Downing Street. Photograph: David Mirzoeff/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

Former prime minister Sir John Major says Boris Johnson and his 'Brexit Party tribute band' have 'wilfully' destroyed the prospects of a cross-party agreement on a Brexit deal.

Major said Johnson was whipping up "fear and anger" for electoral purposes - a tactic he described as "profoundly un-Conservative".

In a speech to the Centre for European Reform, Sir John said he feared the government could try to bypass the so-called Benn Act by an executive Order in Council, suspending it until after October 31 when the UK is set to leave the EU.

"I should warn the prime minister that - if this route is taken - it will be in flagrant defiance of parliament and utterly disrespectful to the Supreme Court," he said.

"It would be a piece of political chicanery that no-one should ever forgive or forget."

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Sir John said he increasingly feared the country was heading for a no-deal Brexit, and that any new deal with Brussels was likely to be "flimsy and partial".

He said the prime minister had "wilfully destroyed any hope of cross-party agreement" with his attack in the Commons.

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At the same time, he warned that a general election - which Johnson is pressing for - would not achieve anything unless the Brexit issue had been resolved first.

"To reinforce their electoral appeal, the government seems intent on whipping up dissent by using highly emotional and evocative language that can only provoke fear and anger, and fuel grievances against parliament and the law," he said.

"It means this government wishes to win re-election, by inciting opposition to the most important bulwarks of our state and its freedom.

"Their approach is profoundly un-Conservative and - whatever its short-term effect - will do permanent damage to the reputation of the Conservative Party.

"I cannot believe any previous government - in our long history - would have even considered such reckless and divisive behaviour."

Sir John said that Johnson's negotiating strategy appeared to be driven by a desire to win the support of the "anti-European hard right" of the Tory Party.

"It was always likely to be a fruitless task," he said.

"They were appeased too much; for too long; and by too many. But they held to their convictions and spread them - often without reason and beyond scruple.

"Their opposition has made a deal almost impossible to obtain."

He warned that such tactics risked alienating the party's "traditional, moderate, middle-of-the-road" supporters.

"Most Conservatives are not a Brexit Party tribute band, nor have we abandoned our core values to find compromise, seek allies, and strive for unity, rather than division and disarray," he said

"We abhor the language of division and hate - and words such as 'saboteur', 'traitor', 'enemy', 'surrender', 'betrayal' have no place in our party, our politics, nor in our society.

"It is emphatically not who we are as a people. And must never be seen as so."

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