Major puts second EU referendum firmly on the Brexit agenda

John Major delivering his speech: The words behind him signal a welcome change from his behavour as prime minister in the 1990s [Image: PA].

The current Tory government’s handling of Brexit is a shambles – and there should be an option for a second referendum on whether the UK at large even wants it, according to former Conservative prime minister John Major.

He said the “ultra Brexiteers” have been wrong about nearly everything they have said or promised to the British people: “Every one of the Brexit promises is – to quote Henry Fielding – “a very wholesome and comfortable doctrine to which (there is) but one objection: namely, that it is not true.”.”

He pointed out that the Tory government’s negotiating strategy has been marked by unrealistic aspirations – usually followed by retreat.

He said the financial sector, businesses, and academic institutions, seeing no commonsense policy to serve the national interest, are making their own preparations for the future. Their demands were being ruled inadmissible by the government’s “red lines”. Sir John said: “This is not only grand folly. It’s also bad politics.”

Commenters on all sides – although not from one side of the Brexit debate – have hailed the speech, with some saying it was his best ever.

He said: “As Prime Minister, I said “No” to federal integration, “No” to the Euro Currency, and “No” to Schengen – which introduced free movement of people within the European Union but without proper control of external borders.

“But I am a realist. I believe that to risk losing our trade advantages with the colossal market on our doorstep is to inflict economic self-harm on the British people.

“Of course, the will of the people can’t be ignored, but Parliament has a duty also to consider the wellbeing of the people.

“No-one voted for higher prices and poorer public services, but that is what they may get. The emerging evidence suggests Brexit will hurt most those who have least. Neither Parliament nor Government wish to see that.”

This Writer has a doubt about that. The refusal to enshrine EU human rights laws on the UK statute book certainly suggests that the current Tory government intends to use Brexit to inflict harm on those who have the least.

He added: “I want us to be richer, not poorer. Yet every serious international body, including the IMF, the OECD, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research – as well as Nobel prize-winners – forecast we will be poorer outside the EU. Such forecasts could be wrong, but to dismiss them out of hand is reckless.”

He also said: “The promises of more hospitals, more schools, lower taxes, more money for transport were electioneering fantasy. The £350 million a week for the NHS was a ridiculous phantom: the reality is if our economy weakens – as is forecast – there will not only be less money for the NHS , but for all our public services.”

And he said: “I know of no precedent for any Government enacting a policy that will make both our country and our people poorer. Once that is apparent, the Government must change course.”

He apparently endorsed Labour’s stated objective, to bring people back together after the divisiveness of an EU referendum that was won by only 37 per cent of the electorate who were permitted to vote at the time: “We have to heal those divisions. They have been made worse by the character of the Brexit debate with its intolerance, its bullying, and its name-calling. I welcome rigorous debate – but there must be respect for differing views that are honestly held.”

He warned that the UK’s stature internationally had been diminished, and would fall still further: “I fear we will be weaker and less prosperous – as a country and as individuals. And – although it grieves me to admit it – our divorce from Europe will diminish our international stature. Indeed, it already has.”

And he appeared to support Labour’s stance on the Northern Ireland border: “The Prime Minister is seeking a “frictionless” border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. She is absolutely right to do so. This is a promise that must be honoured, and I wish her well. But, so far, this has not materialised – nor, I fear, will it – unless we stay in “a” or “the” Customs Union.” That’s Labour’s stance, as announced by Jeremy Corbyn on Monday.

“We need a policy to protect the Good Friday Agreement – and we need one urgently . And it is our responsibility to find one – not the European Union.”

He said that the Tory government had ruled out every kind of deal except “cherry picking” – which the EU has ruled out. So compromise is the only way forward.

In the current circumstances, he said, when Parliament comes to consider the final proposed deal and vote on whether to accept it, members should be allowed a “free” vote, unconstrained by the party whips.

And he said the mood of the electorate by 2021, when transition arrangements will end, could be hugely different: “The electorate will have changed. Some voters will have left us. Many new voters will be enfranchised. Others may have changed their mind. No-one can truly know what “the will of the people” may then be. So, let Parliament decide. Or put the issue back to the people.”

The reaction from the Tories who now form the government has been entirely predictable: Panic.

To have a former prime minister speak out against current government policy and in favour of Labour policy is a huge embarrassment for Theresa May and her gang of Brextremists.

That’s why Iain Duncan Smith has been on the interview circuit, talking down Mr Major’s speech. It’s just a shame that, apparently, he hasn’t had the time to watch it:

(Mr Andreou clarified later that he meant 16 hours.)

Here are some of the more rational reactions:

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6 thoughts on “Major puts second EU referendum firmly on the Brexit agenda

  1. Growing Flame

    You couldn’t make it up! The most socialist Labour Party since 1945, portrayed as a threat to the income of the wealthiest businessmen, STILL gets the agreement of the Confederation of British Industry, the National Farmers Union, and the previous Tory Prime Minister, John Major, for its policy on Brexit. The Tories are so far Right wing, the capitalist class are thinking that Left wing Social Democracy may be their best bet!!

  2. Pat Sheehan

    The Torys want us to be richer??? Not Poorer???
    So that’s why we have some of the lowest pensions in the known world and welfare has to be cut back to poverty levels and we have to have zero hour contracts and stagnant wage levels???
    Why is it that ‘poor’ old me on the left of the political scene just cannot get my head around the ‘right wing’ conservative way of thinking and doing???
    What I can see very clearly though is that it is just another lie! One great, big, damn political right wing lie!

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