‘Colossal misjudgment’: John Major delivers devastating Brexit speech
PUBLISHED: 11:23 17 October 2018 | UPDATED: 11:23 17 October 2018
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Former prime minister Sir John Major has attacked Brexiteers who told “vote-gathering fantasies” during the referendum campaign.
Delivering the Michael Quinlan Lecture in central London, Sir John said “it should not be forgotten that we ignore the EU, disdain it, or stand aside from it, at our own risk” and added: “There is irony here: over 70 years ago, Britain stood alone to fight for Europe – now we freely choose to stand alone and, in so doing, undermine Europe.”
His Brexit intervention will add fuel to the demands for a People’s Vote to break the deadlock ahead of a huge march planned in the capital for this weekend.
“We are told our future aim is to be ‘Global Britain’: that is certainly the right policy, but it is hardly new,” the former Tory leader said. “It has been the reality for 300 years.
“What is new is that much of the world will now perceive Britain to be a middle-sized, middle-ranking nation that is no longer super-charged by its alliances. Suddenly, the world will be a little chillier.
“If the art of negotiation is to obtain what you seek, then the intention must be to give a little to (hopefully) gain a lot more.”
He went on: “We know the post-Brexit world will be very different from now. It cannot be otherwise, because no form of Brexit will remotely match up to the promises made by the Leave Campaign in the referendum: they were vote-gathering fantasies, not serious politics.
“I have no constituency vote clouding my view of Brexit. I have no ambition driving my support for it. I have no party whips demanding loyalty before conscience.
“I have made no false promises about Brexit that I must pretend can still be honoured, even though – in my heart – I know they cannot.
“I am free to say absolutely and precisely what I believe about Brexit.
“And it is this: I understand the motives of those who voted to leave the European Union: it can – as I well know – be very frustrating.
“Nonetheless, after weighing its frustrations and opportunities, there is no doubt in my own mind that our decision is a colossal misjudgment that will diminish both the UK and the EU.
“It will damage our national and personal wealth, and may seriously hamper our future security. It may even, over time, break up our United Kingdom. It will most definitely limit the prospects of our young.
“And – once this becomes clear – I believe those who promised what will never be delivered will have much to answer for. They persuaded a deceived population to vote to be weaker and poorer.
“That will never be forgotten – nor forgiven.”
And he added that the future of both Britain and the EU was very uncertain: “Without the UK, the dynamics of Europe may change. Once the UK leaves, the balance of the EU changes. The free market majority may be at risk: protectionists will be encouraged and, perhaps, empowered.
“The UK will no longer be a buffer between the Franco-German steamroller and smaller nations. Germany will be more isolated, and friction may grow.
“The UK may have been an irritant to the Commission and some of our European partners, but it has also been the anchor to windward against precipitate, or unwise, or unaffordable policies.
“There is irony here: over 70 years ago, Britain stood alone to fight for Europe – now we freely choose to stand alone and, in so doing, undermine Europe.
“‘So what?’ committed Brexiteers say, ‘We won’t be Members: it’s Europe’s problem’. But that ignores reality. How can it not be our problem, too? “Whether we are ‘in’ or ‘out’ the EU is in our neighbourhood; is our predominant economic partner; and our wellbeing is inexorably linked to their own wellbeing.
“In the hot heat of debate it should not be forgotten that we ignore the EU, disdain it, or stand aside from it, at our own risk.”