Sir John Major – 2018 Speech on Brexit

Below is the text of the speech made by Sir John Major, the former Conservative Prime Minister from 1990 until 1997, at Somerset House in London on 28 February 2018.

I would like to express my thanks to the Creative Industries Federation, Somerset House Trust, and Tech London Advocates for the opportunity to speak here today.

Brexit matters to our creative industries. They express our culture and values – but give so much more.

Nearly 10% of our national workforce is in creative industries. They are often the young – and overwhelmingly in small units up and down the UK.

Job growth outpaces every other part of industry – especially in the Midlands and Yorkshire.

Their exports total over £35 billion a year, but their added value to our country – both economically and socially – is incalculable … and far beyond cash.

Our decision to leave the EU faces the creative industries with a variety of threats that could harm their future, both in financial and human terms.

So I am delighted to be their guest here this afternoon – to talk of Brexit.

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For years, the European debate has been dominated by the fringes of opinion – by strong supporters of Europe or convinced opponents. But, as we approach Brexit, the voice of middle opinion mustn’t be overlooked.

I am neither a Europhile nor a Eurosceptic. 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.

The “will of the people” – so often summoned up when sound argument is absent – was supported by only 37% of the electorate. 63% voted either in favour of membership – or did not vote at all.

There was a majority for Brexit, but there was no overwhelming mandate to ignore the reservations of 16 million voters, who believe it will be a harmful change of direction for our country.

Brexit has been the most divisive issue of my lifetime. It has divided not only the four nations of our UK, but regions within them. It has divided political parties; political colleagues; families; friends – and the young from the old.

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.

In this debate there are no “remoaners”, no “mutineers”, no “enemies of the people” – just voices setting out what they believe is right for our country.

In recent weeks, the idea has gained ground that Brexit won’t be too bad; that we will all get through it; that we’re doing better than expected – and all will be well.

Of course we will get through it: life as we know it won’t come to an end. We are too resourceful and talented a nation for that. But our nation is owed a frank assessment of what leaving Europe may mean – for now and the future.

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.

For decades, we British have super-charged our influence around the world by our closeness to the US (which policy divisions are lessening); and our membership of the EU (which we are abandoning).

As a result, we are already becoming a lesser actor. No-one – Leaver or Remainer – can welcome that.

We are all urged to be “patriotic” and get behind Brexit. But it is precisely because I am patriotic that I oppose it.

I want my Country to be influential, not isolated; committed, not cut-off; a leading participant, not a bystander.

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.

Our own Government has assessed our post-Brexit position upon three separate criteria: that we stay in the Single Market; or reach a trade deal with Europe; or fail to do so.

Each option shows us to be worse off: and disastrously so with no trade deal at all. And the poorest regions will be hurt the most.

If, as negotiations proceed, this analysis appears to be correct, that cannot be brushed aside. 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.

Meanwhile, we are yet again told all will be well. Certainly, the recent fall in the value of Sterling has temporarily boosted our exports. The strength of the world economy may even increase our forecast growth this year.

But this sweet spot is artificial. It won’t last. Prosperity isn’t built on devaluation of the currency. More exports on the back of other countries’ economic growth is not a secure position.

The UK has been at the very top of European growth.

We are now the laggard at the bottom. We have become the slowest of the world’s big economies, even before we surrender the familiar advantages of the Single Market.

Our negotiations, so far, have not always been sure-footed. Some agreements have been reached but, in many areas, only because the UK has given ground.

Our determination to negotiate the divorce bill and a new trade deal at the same time was going to be “the fight of the summer” – but instead became an immediate British retreat.

There was to be a “points based” immigration system. There isn’t, and there won’t be.

We were to become the “Singapore of the North”. No more: we have retreated from a policy of lower taxes and de-regulation.

No transition period was going to be needed. But we have now asked for one – during which we will accept new EU rules, ECJ jurisdiction, and free movement of people.

I don’t say this to be critical.

I do so to illustrate that unrealistic aspirations are usually followed by retreat.

That is a lesson for the negotiations to come.

They will be the most difficult any Government has faced. Our aims have to be realistic. I am not sure they yet are.

We simply cannot move forward with leaving the EU, the Single Market, the Customs Union and the ECJ, whilst at the same time expecting à la carte, beneficial-to-Britain, bespoke entrance to the European market. It is just not credible.

A willingness to compromise is essential. If either side – the UK or the EU – is too inflexible, too unbending, too wedded to what they won’t do – then the negotiations will fail.

The very essence of negotiation involves both “give” and “take”. But there are always “red lines” that neither side wishes to cross. In successful negotiations those “red lines” are traded for concessions.

If our “red lines” are held to be inviolable, the likelihood of no deal – or a poor deal – increases. Every time we close off options prematurely, this encourages the EU to do the same – and that is not in our British interest.

A good Brexit – for Britain – will protect our trade advantages, and enable us to:

– continue to sell our goods and services without disruption;

– import and export food without barriers and extra cost; staff our hospitals, universities and businesses with the skills we need – where we most need them;

– be part of the cutting edge of European research, in which British brains and skills lead the way;

– continue with the over 40 FTAs we have with countries only as a result of our membership of the EU.

A bad Brexit – for Britain – will surrender these, and other, advantages.

For the moment, our self-imposed “red lines” have boxed the Government into a corner.

They are so tilted to ultra Brexit opinion, even the Cabinet cannot agree them – and a majority in both Houses of Parliament oppose them. If maintained in full, it will be impossible to reach a favourable trade outcome.

Alarmed at the negotiations so far, the financial sector, businesses, and our academic institutions, are pleading for commonsense policy to serve the national interest and now – fearful they may not get it – are making their own preparations for the future.

Japanese car-makers warn they could close operations in Britain unless we maintain free access to the EU. That would be heart-breaking for many people in Sunderland or Swindon or South Wales.

This isn’t “Project Fear” revisited, it is “Project Know Your History”.

Any doubters should consult the former employees of factories, now closed, in Bridgend, Port Talbot and Newport, where jobs were lost and families suffered.

In 1991, employment by Japanese firms in Wales was about 17,000 people: today, it is 2,000. If free access to Europe is lost – that scale of impact, across the UK, could lose 125,000 Japanese jobs.

Over many years, the Conservative Party has understood the concerns of business. Not over Brexit, it seems.

Across the United Kingdom – businesses are expressing their wish to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union. But “No”, say the Government’s “red lines”.

Businesses wish to have the freedom to employ foreign skills. “No”, say the Government’s “red lines”.

Business and academia wish to welcome foreign students to our universities and – as they rise to influence in their own countries – we then have willing partners in politics and business for decades to come. “No”, say the Government’s “red lines”.

This is not only grand folly. It’s also bad politics.

The national interest must always be above the Party interest, but my Party should beware. It is only fear of Mr Corbyn and Mr McDonnell that prevents a haemorrhage of business support.

Without the comprehensive trade deal the Prime Minister seeks, we risk economic divorce from the EU, and the chill embrace of a “hard” Brexit with WTO rules.

Leading Brexit supporters believe there is nothing to fear from losing our special access to the Single Market.

But that is profoundly wrong. Swapping the Single Market for WTO rules

would mean our exports facing the EU external tariff, as well as hidden nontariff barriers that could be adjusted to our disadvantage at any time.

A Minister has speculated we might face tariffs of 3%. Not so.

It is more likely that we will face tariffs on cars (10%), food (14%), drinks (20%), and dairy products (36%). Even if a successful negotiation were to halve these tariffs, our exports would still be much more expensive to sell – and this would apply far beyond agriculture and the motor industry.

And if, in retaliation, the UK were to impose tariffs on imports, this would result in higher prices for the British consumer.

If we and the EU agreed to impose nil tariffs – as some have speculated – WTO rules mean we would both have to offer nil tariffs to all countries. That isn’t going to happen.

This is all very complex. But it is crucial. And none of it has yet been properly explained to the British people.

There have been attempts to reassure business by claiming that other nations trade with the EU on purely WTO terms. That statement is simply wrong.

China, the US and Japan all have side agreements with Europe on standards, customs co-operation, mutual recognition and investment. These economic giants did so to protect their own trade even though none of them is exposed as we are – still half our entire exports go to Europe.

Ultra Brexit opinion is impatient to be free of European relationships; to become – in their words – a “global player”, “sovereign”, “in control”. I believe they are deceiving themselves and, as a result, they are misleading the British people.

Before the modern world took shape – their ambition would have been credible. But the world has changed, the global market has taken root, and – if we are to care for the people of our nation – philosophical fantasies must give way to national self-interest. We cannot prepare for tomorrow by living in the world of yesterday.

I don’t doubt the convictions of those who long for the seductive ambition of British exceptionalism. But these sentiments are out-of-date and, in today’s world, wrong.

It is not my purpose to stir controversy, but the truth must be spoken. The ultra Brexiteers have been mistaken – wrong – in nearly all they have said or promised to the British people.

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.

We were told that nobody was threatening our place in the Single Market. That tune has changed.

We were told that a trade deal with the EU would be easy to get. Wrong again: it was never going to be easy, and we are still not sure what outcome will be achieved.

We were told “Europe can whistle for their money” and we would not pay a penny in exit costs. Wrong again. Europe didn’t even have to purse her lips before we agreed to pay £40 billion to meet legitimate liabilities.

I could go on. But suffice to say that 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.”.

People should pause and reflect: if the Brexit leaders were wrong in what they said so enthusiastically before – are they not likely to be wrong in what they say now?

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.

Those of us who warned of the risks Brexit would bring to the still fragile Peace Process were told at the time that we “didn’t understand Irish politics”. But it seems we understood it better than our critics. 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.

Although the referendum was advisory only, the result gave the Government the obligation to negotiate a Brexit. But not any Brexit; not at all costs; and certainly not on any terms. The true remit can only be to agree a Brexit that honours the promises made in the referendum.

But, so far, the promises have not been met and, probably, cannot be met.

Many electors know they were misled: many more are beginning to realise it.

So, the electorate has every right to reconsider their decision.

Meanwhile, our options become ever narrower.

We have ruled out full membership. Ruled out the Single Market and Customs Union. Ruled out joining the European Economic Area. Dismissed talk of joining EFTA.

A Norway deal won’t do. Nor will a Swiss deal. Nor a Ukraine deal; a Turkey deal; or a South Korea deal. No, to them all, say the Government’s “red lines”.

So, little is left, except for “cherry picking” – which the EU rejects. Or a comprehensive deal – which will be very hard, if not impossible, to get. So compromise it must be – or no deal at all.

It is now widely accepted that “no deal” would be the worst possible outcome. The compromise must, therefore, focus around our accepting Single Market rules (as Norway does) and paying for access.

Or an enhanced “Canada deal” – and it would need to be enhanced a very great deal to be attractive. The Canada deal largely concerns goods – whereas the bulk of UK exports are services.

But what we achieve to protect our interests may depend on what we concede: it is, as I say, “give” and “take”. If our “red lines” dissolve, our options enlarge.

Our minimum objective must be that “deep, special and bespoke” trade deal the Prime Minister has talked about.

So, some unpalatable decisions lie ahead – with the cast-iron certainty that the extreme and unbending Brexit lobby will cry “betrayal” at any compromise. But it is Parliament, not a small minority, that must decide our policy.

I spoke earlier of the “divisiveness” of Brexit across our United Kingdom. But, in due time, the debate will end and – when it does – we need the highest possible level of public acceptance for the outcome. It is in no-one’s interest for the bitterness and division to linger on.

I see only one way to achieve this.

It is already agreed that Parliament must pass legislation giving effect to the deal. A “meaningful vote” has been promised. This must be a decisive vote, in which Parliament can accept or reject the final outcome; or send the negotiators back to seek improvements; or order a referendum.

That is what Parliamentary sovereignty means.

But, to minimise divisions in our country – and between and within the political parties – I believe the Government should take a brave and bold decision. They should invite Parliament to accept or reject the final outcome on a free vote.

I know the instinct of every Government is to oppose “free votes”, but the Government should weigh the advantages of having one very carefully. It may be in their interest to do so.

There are some very practical reasons in favour of it.

Brexit is a unique decision. It will affect the lives of the British people for generations to come. If it flops – there will be the most terrible backlash.

If it is whipped through Parliament, when the public are so divided, voters will know who to blame if they end up poorer and weaker. So, both democracy and prudence suggest a free vote.

The deep divisions in our nation are more likely to be healed by a Brexit freely approved by Parliament, than a Brexit forced through Parliament at the behest of a minority of convinced opponents of Europe.

A free vote would better reflect the reality that – for every 17 voters who opted for Brexit – 16 opted to remain in the EU.

But, regardless of whether a free vote is offered, Parliamentarians must decide the issue on the basis of their own conscience. Upon whether, in mature judgement, they really do believe that the outcome of the negotiations is in the best interests of the people they serve.

By 2021, after the likely two-year transition, it will be five years since the 2016 referendum. 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.

And what is true for the House of Commons must apply to the House of Lords. Peers must ignore any noises off, and be guided by their intellect and their conscience.

I have been a Conservative all my life.

I don’t enjoy being out of step with many in my Party and take no pleasure in speaking out as I am today.

But it’s as necessary to speak truth to the people, as to power.

Leaving Europe is an issue so far-reaching, so permanent, so over-arching that it will have an impact on all our lives – most especially on the young and the future. With only 12 months to go, we need answers, not aspirations.

This is far more than just a Party issue. It’s about the future of our United Kingdom, and everyone who lives in it.

That is what matters. That is why I’m here today.

Sir John Major – 2016 Speech at Peterborough Cathedral

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Below is the text of the speech made by Sir John Major in Peterborough Cathedral on 10 June 2016.

It is extraordinary that this is the 900th Anniversary of this great Cathedral.

Its foundations were laid over 50 years before the martyrdom of Thomas Beckett, and 100 years before Magna Carta opened a small chink towards democracy. In those days, one third of England was forest – and the Cathedral would have dominated the landscape.

Today, it sits in the middle of a city, and the forest has long gone: although part of its wood survives in the great ceiling above us in this Nave.

Nine hundred years ago our dinner – on a Friday – would, of course, have been fish: probably sole or eels. We would have shared a communal soup bowl and eaten from common plates of food, helping ourselves with – hopefully clean – fingers.

We would have had knives but no forks. We would have been discouraged from licking our fingers clean (very bad table manners), or taking too much food, or using bread to mop up morsels from the communal plate. And if we were wise, we would not have drunk the water. We would certainly have never imagined the future.

So much has happened since then and – today – events are moving faster than ever before. For many, it is a bewildering world, throwing up choices and decisions perhaps more complex than anything we have known in all our long history.

The role of the Cathedral has evolved over the centuries. Faith is more liberal now, more user-friendly, more open to accept different cultures – and more tolerant of those who have no faith at all.

Yet it remains massively important to its community. As part of the celebrations of this anniversary Peterborough 900 is raising funds for community purposes: a heritage and education centre, and a Music School, are projects that will benefit many people.

So will re pitching the Organ to enable the Cathedral to function as a concert venue with a new sound system. Some may say – is this the purpose of a Cathedral?

I would say, “Yes, it is”: in a secular – often too materialist – world, in a multi-cultural and multi-faith City, it must reach out and be seen as a relevant part of our way of living: if it were to become a mausoleum for only the committed to visit on Sunday it would surely wither.

Our country was once a collection of small towns and cities and tiny villages, and the Church was the heart and soul of the community: today, when so many are elderly, some lonely, and others possibly a little frightened at the pace and change of modern life, this role is as important as it has ever been.

For the sick at heart, it is a sanctuary: open to the good and the bad alike: a comfort zone for some when none other may exist. That is why in my view – though this is not shared by everyone in public life – it should use its pulpit to speak out more clearly on issues that affect the lives of everyday people.

Today, around the world, intolerance of minorities is on the rise. In country after country we see them scape-goated. Extreme politicians reach for power. Even in our own backyard of Europe, intolerant voices influence opinion. Here, in this bastion of faith, I invite the Church, and all faith groups, to speak out whilst intolerance can still be beaten back. It is important that they do – without fear and without reservation.

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Some problems are eternal. Twenty five years ago, at the door of Downing Street, I set out my ambition for “a nation at ease with itself”. At the heart of this was my wish to tackle inequality.

That day I had the power, but the economy was failing and there was no money. By the time the economy was mended and I had the money, I lost the power. I made some progress – but not enough. Overall, I failed in my own objective.

With age comes reflection and, these days, I am more and more concerned about inequality. Sixty-five years ago, my family’s circumstances were not easy. And for many – in a country now immensely more wealthy – life is still not easy.

The global market is driving inequality – and the uncomfortable truth is that there is a gap between what our nation needs in social provision, and what the taxpayer is willing to pay.

For a long time, civil society has bridged much of this gap – helped, in recent years, by tax reliefs to encourage giving, and State funding to carry out statutory social work. The National Lottery, too, has now disbursed over £33 billion to good causes – mostly to provide facilities the State could not afford. Indeed, this Cathedral has benefited from some of them.

But, inevitably, there are gaps: as a country, we are one of the richest in the world – and yet some of our communities are amongst the poorest in all Northern Europe.

Even in areas that are recognised as wealthy, there are families or individuals who have fallen behind.

In communities where traditional jobs have gone, too many are on low incomes – or no income at all. A minority move elsewhere to find work. But the majority can’t: not through disinclination, but because – even if they have sufficient savings to do so – it is tough to uproot to find a job and a home. For the penniless, or for those with families or who act as carers, it can – literally – be impossible. They are effectively trapped.

And let us cast aside a common misconception. Everyone out of work is not an idler. Everyone in receipt of benefits is not a scrounger. Of course idlers and scroungers exist – and Governments are right to root out the cheats who rip off the taxpayer. But the focus must not only be on those who abuse the system; we need equal concentration on those who are failed by the system.

We have made progress. We can raise living standards: we have been doing so for a long time. At the turn of the 20th Century, millions struggled to eat. In London, one in three lived below the poverty line; in York, one in four ate less well than the unfortunate wretches in the poor house.

Over the decades, mass poverty has shrunk back. The quality of life has risen across all income groups – but much less evenly than is healthy. Politicians, and charities, and churches, and the free market, can all take a mini-bow for what has been achieved. But there is no cause for complacency: a hard core of relative poverty still remains.

A nation at ease with itself requires fairness.

370 years ago, in the Putney Debates, Colonel Rainsborough observed: “… the poorest he that is in England has a life to live, as [has] the greatest he…”. So had he, or she, then, and so has he, or she, now. We may never achieve a perfect society, but we can surely create a fairer one.

Of course we’re not all born equal: the raw ingredients of an impoverished life often start in childhood. As a boy, my family lived in two rooms in Brixton. Life was hard but for others it was worse. I saw poverty all around me – and have never forgotten that.

There is no security. No peace of mind. The pain of every day is the fear of what might happen tomorrow. It is terrifying – and the memory of it never leaves you.

We see poverty as a social evil – which, of course, it is: but it is far more than that. It is an economic evil. It wastes talent. It destroys ambition. It lowers national output. It cuts competitiveness. It creates dependency. It leaves families in despair and communities in decline.

And inequality – poverty amid plenty – is corrosive. It alienates and breeds resentment. It undermines national cohesion. The human spirit can endure great hardship: but inequality gives it a bitter edge.

Some think the solution is easy. Penalise the rich. Cut defence. End overseas aid to people who are far poorer than us – and living in conditions of squalor that we cannot even imagine. Then, borrow more and spend more. But this doesn’t work.

The arguments against such an approach are so comprehensive, so compelling, I won’t waste any time on them, except to note they have failed before and would do so again. Easy promises, with no practical policy to bring them about, are simply posturing.

And that is of no help to the poor. Good intentions don’t fill empty bellies, or provide shelter for the homeless, or jobs for the unemployed.

What does help is national wealth accompanied by national conscience. The richer we are as a nation, the more we can do. If the Good Samaritan is in debt, he can be of no help to others. That is why the health of our national economy is an essential preliminary to a nation at ease with itself.

* * * * * *

And that brings me to my final point. Ahead of us in a few days is a pivotal choice – to stay in the European Union or leave it. This arouses strong emotions among some people – and no doubt both sides of the argument are represented here tonight. I am no starry-eyed European. I was, after all, the Prime Minister who kept us out of the Euro and declined to join the Schengen zone on free movement of people.

But I am a realist. And unlike many in the present debate, I sat for seven years at Europe’s top table and saw it from the inside. I learned its intentions. I know its virtues, its faults and its frustrations at first hand, yet I have not a shred of doubt that it is in our present and long-term interest to remain in the EU. Inside we will be richer. We will be more influential. We can do more.

Our world has changed. We Britons are 65 million people in a world of 7,000 million. And it is a world that is drawing together in trade, in politics, in travel, and in facing common threats. It would be an extraordinary moment to suddenly cut ourselves adrift from the largest and richest free market in history.

I am a Briton, and an Englishman, and I believe our country is a benevolent influence in the world. I don’t want us to isolate ourselves. Overall, we are a force for good, for reason, for moderation. We have much to offer.

I hope everyone will think of that – and of the future, and the next generation – before they make up their minds. The decision we take is, quite literally, more relevant to our future then any General Election has or will be.

Sir John Major – 2016 Speech in Bristol on EU Referendum

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Below is the text of the speech made by Sir John Major, the former UK Prime Minister from 1990 until 1997, in Bristol on 22 June 2016.

This is the last day we have left to try and persuade the British people to remain in the EU.

As Prime Minister, European rows upset many of my ambitions. I should wish to leave …. and yet I passionately believe that our jobs, homes, savings and family life will be safer and more secure if we remain in the EU.

Of course I understand there is concern over the current level of immigration – I stress current. I understand it – the PM understands it. But leaving the EU is no solution. To try and solve a short-term problem by doing so is to risk a far greater longer-term impact on our prosperity and place in the world.

If we were to leave, we would be seriously diminished as a country. I don’t want a Broken Britain without influence. And that is what we risk.

Throughout this campaign I – and others – have been accused of “scaremongering”. Of running a “Project Fear”. What a grotesque travesty of the truth.

So many respected bodies have pointed out the risks – and the Remain campaign has a duty to inform, correct myths and untruths – and to warn. That is Project Reality.

That is our responsibility. If we had failed in that – and if the British people vote out and all the things we have warned of come to pass – they would be fully entitled to say: “Why on earth did no-one ever tell us it would be like this?”

The British people will make their own choice tomorrow – but I do not want to sit on my rocking chair in a few years’ time wishing I had done more to lay the truth on the line …

Of course being a member of the EU can be frustrating. Sometimes deeply frustrating. No-one knows that better than me – and the PM – for both of us have sat around that top table for many years.

But the benefits of being inside the EU are real and by far outweigh any downsides: our international prestige, influence, security, wellbeing are all enhanced inside Europe.

As I stand here beside a still very youthful and energetic PM … I am very much aware that I represent the “grey” vote – actually, I think I’ve probably represented that for many years …..

But this is an important point: many people my own age – and older – remember the last referendum in 1975. Many say “We voted IN then – but we never voted for this ….. we never voted for what we have now ….. this is my chance to reverse that … to get out of Europe”.

I understand that sentiment, but would put another one to them: our country, Europe – and the wider world – is a very different place than it was in 1975. The world has moved on – and we have had to move with it. Who would have imagined that China would become so economically dominant? Who would have imagined that the communist Soviet Union would collapse, and that wall of division – of hate – between the East and the West would be torn down? Who would have foreseen the Global Market?

Our country is as free as any in the world. We take freedom for granted. Political freedom. Freedom of movement. And these are not one-way freedoms: our children and grandchildren think nothing of hopping onto Eurostar and heading off to Paris for a weekend break. Or travelling around Europe with a backpack earning money to pay their way …. why should such freedoms be denied to others?

Our nation is instinctively compassionate, open-hearted, generous-spirited, fair-minded and tolerant. We balk against hatred and extremism. We are fiercely patriotic – but not nationalistic.

And it is patriotic to work with others to ensure our security; to improve our economic wellbeing; to carry British influence and British values around Europe and the world. The optimistic patriot looks outwards and forwards – not inwards and backwards.

I am at an age when I often look back. But I owe it to my children and my grandchildren to look forward.

And it is because I want the very best for their future – and for the future of your own children and grandchildren – that I wish to remain in the EU.

I want their futures to be safe. Secure. I want them to enjoy the freedoms that I have enjoyed. I want them to know prosperity not austerity. I want them to feel compassion for those in genuine need. I want them to reject hatred and violence – and to live in a country that does so too.

For these and many other reasons, we cannot – must not – pull up the drawbridge on our own country, and shrink back into ourselves. We need to be a strong voice, with a strong influence inside the EU and on the global stage.

If we leave, Europe would lose the country with the best performing economy; one of only two countries with a military capability and nuclear capacity; and the country with the longest, deepest and widest foreign policy reach.

And how ironic it would be if Britain – the nation that once, by her steadfastness saved Europe – were to end up as the architect of disarray across Europe.

If our nation does vote to leave – we must respect their decision.

But, if they vote to leave on the basis of half-truths, untruths and misunderstandings then – pretty soon – the gravediggers of our prosperity will have to account for what they have said and done.

But that will be of no consolation. For we will be out. Out for good. Diminished as an influence on the world. A truly Great Britain, shrunk down to a Little England.

This is not how our island story should go.

Tomorrow – millions of our fellow citizens can save our country from a mistake we will live to regret … for a very long time to come.

Sir John Major – 2016 Speech at Oxford Union on the EU

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Below is the text of the speech made by Sir John Major, the former Prime Minister, at the Oxford Union on 13 May 2016.

This is my first formal speech in the Referendum campaign, and it is appropriate that it is here – because it is your generation’s future that will be enhanced or diminished by whether we “remain” in or “leave” the EU.

I’ve no particular reason to be a supporter of the EU. It is far from perfect. A quarter of a century ago it bitterly divided my Party, and European disagreements wrecked many of the ambitions I had as Prime Minister. It opened disputes that linger yet. Nor am I an unquestioning European: I did, after all, say “No” to the Euro, and “No” to joining the Schengen Agreement on open borders.

Even so, I passionately believe we must remain in Europe and help shape its future: geography, trade and logic mean our futures are linked whether we wish it or not.

Tonight I want to explain why I believe that is so, and then cast a critical eye over the flawed – and misleading – arguments for Brexit.

What sort of country are we? For hundreds of years we’ve been a positive force in the world – a nation that looked outwards, and spread our ideas, our principles, our laws, our democracy, across the world.

But that world has changed. Today, we are 65 million people: less than 1% of a world of 7,000 million, forecast to become 9,000 million by the time your own children are at University.

And the global market is inexorably drawing that world together on a scale we could not have imagined even a few years ago. It is counter-intuitive to try to go it alone and, as our friends around the world tell us, a disastrously bad decision to do so.

Within the EU, we are a large and influential nation and – while we remain a part of a Union of 500 million people – we have serious political and diplomatic clout, as well as economic advantages. Some examples make this clear.

In Europe, we were able to impose sanctions on Russia to keep her in check, and deter further misbehaviour in Ukraine. We persuaded the EU to join America and impose sanctions on Iran, to bring about a deal that halts development of a nuclear weapon. We could not do this alone. If we were to leave, the world would consider us diminished. Departure would be a gratuitous act of self-harm.

The economic argument for Europe is overwhelming: it is nearly half our export market, and nearly five times bigger than all the 52 Commonwealth countries added together, or indeed, six times more than the sum total of trade with Brazil, Russia, India and China.

In the EU, we have unimpeded access to the richest trade market in the world – right here on our doorstep. Access to that market of 500 million people encourages a wealth of investment into our country. That’s not an abstract statistic – it’s people’s jobs, taxes, profits and overall quality of life.

Outside Europe, we would still have to comply with EU rules and regulations, unless we surrendered all access to the Single Market – which all reputable authorities, not least the IMF, OECD, NIESR and the Bank of England, regard as economically foolish.

And, once out – or “liberated” in the more emotive language of the “Leave” campaign – we could no longer protect ourselves against the impact of EU laws on the City of London, nor on our industry and service sectors.

Nominally, we would indeed be “free”, but – in practice – we would only be “free” to accept whatever the EU determined, with no power to argue against it. Is that “taking back control” – as the “Leave” campaign describes it? No it isn’t. And it’s not glorious sovereignty either. It is nothing other than reckless, imprudent folly. And the price for that would be paid by every British family.

It is not the only price. The NIESR warns of a collapse in the value of Sterling. The LSE warns of higher prices. The Bank of England fears higher interest rates and mortgages. All this and more – from independent bodies – is ignored and brushed aside by the “Leave” campaign.

Yet many people – not least in my own Party – wish to leave.

Their motives are many and variable: pride in our country, concern over sovereignty and immigration, and fear that we have no influence in Europe and are heading towards a federal structure.

We must address these instincts, these emotions, and debunk myths that are wrong, but sunk in our national consciousness. If we fail to do so, we may end up leaving Europe because absurd falsehoods are widely believed to be true.

One absurdity is that, subsumed in Europe, we would lose our traditions, our heritage, our individuality. We won’t: after sixty years of Europe are the French less French or the Germans less German? Of course not: and nor will we be less British.

In the search for voter support the “Leave” campaign repeatedly overstate their case: if they were to win, they risk a backlash from those who reasonably might say they were misled.

There is no shortage of such exaggerations. One clear example is the cost of Europe. Nigel Farage, Iain Duncan-Smith and Boris Johnson all put it at £20 billion a year; Michael Gove is more modest at £18 billion (£350 million a week), all of which, they tell us – if only we could be free of Europe – would be spent on the Health Service and our hospitals.

If only … if only…. but the truth is their figures are wrong by a factor of over three! During the last five years the average gross payment was £12.7 billion of which £5.6 billion was paid back to us. Last year, our gross payment was just over £11 billion, of which over £5 billion was paid back to our farmers, businesses, science, research and regional aid. This is not my calculation – it is the calculation of the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

So, to put £20 billion more into hospitals the “Leave” campaign would have to claw back all the money paid to some of our fellow countrymen and, on top of that, tax us all by an additional £10 billion. Those who make such false claims – and knowingly do so – need to apologise that they’ve got their figures badly wrong – and stop peddling a demonstrable untruth – as they have been repeatedly asked to do by the Chairman of the UK Statistics Authority.

The “Leave” campaign fret that we have surrendered our “sovereignty” to Europe. That is a very rum claim: and – if it were true – how could we offer our nation a Referendum? It is certainly true that we have shared sovereignty: we share ours and, in return, we gain a share of the sovereignty of 27 other nations.

But this is our choice – because it is in our own national interest. And, if it ever ceased to be, our Government can always commence withdrawal with Parliament support. So let me make the position on sovereignty absolutely clear: we share it within the EU only for as long as our British Parliament wishes us to do so.

And even that sharing is partial.

What say does the EU have over our economic policy? None.
Our education system? None.
Our NHS? None.
Our welfare system? None.
Our Armed Forces? None.
Our police? None

I could go on: 98% of government spending is entirely in the control of the British Parliament.

Like much we hear from the “Leave” campaign, the sovereignty argument is emotive but specious. In a global economy, no country truly has sovereignty – not even our mighty friend the US. And in our most crucial area – security – we have happily shared sovereignty within NATO for over 60 years.

Of course, we don’t always get our own way. Who does in any relationship of two – let alone one that numbers 27 other Member States? But we should not forget that – in well over 90% of the votes cast in Brussels – the UK wins. The caricature that we are repeatedly voted down in Europe is ill-informed nonsense.

Another cherished “Leave” mantra is that we will all be “dragged” into a “federal” Europe. It is their favourite horror story. But, yet again, it is fantasy.

Were we dragged into the Euro? No
Were we dragged into Schengen and open borders? No
Are we now exempt from “ever-closer union”? Yes, we are.

And if any new Treaty seeks more power, that Treaty would have to be put to the British nation in a Referendum and if – and only if – it were approved by us would it become law.

A final point on sovereignty: we have sovereignty in its purest and most potent form: we – the UK – can leave the EU at any time; nothing legally binds us to the EU forever. That is the fact and we should disregard the fiction.

As the “Leave” arguments implode one by one, some of the Brexit leaders morph into UKIP, and turn to their default position: immigration. This is their trump card. I urge them to take care: this is dangerous territory that – if handled carelessly – can open up long-term divisions in our society.

I grew up in Brixton in the 1950s – a time of massive West Indian immigration. As a boy, I played in local parks with the children of migrants. Some of these newcomers rented rooms in the same house as my family.

So, I can tell you, as a matter of fact, not fantasy, that those I knew then – and later – didn’t come here for our benefits: they came half-way across the world to give themselves and their families a better life.

But, at the time, fears were fanned by careless statements from political figures. That was a mistake then, and would be a mistake now.

Do not misunderstand me. Of course, it is legitimate to raise the issue of the sheer number of those wishing to enter our country. I wholly accept that. Nor do I wish to silence debate. We mustn’t overlook genuine concerns: but these should be expressed with care, honesty and balance. Not in a manner that can raise fears or fuel prejudice. The “Leave” campaign are crossing that boundary, and I caution them not to do so.

They attribute motives to new arrivals that are speculative and, frankly, offensive. They highlight – with grotesque exaggeration – the risk of mass migration from Turkey – which is unlikely to be joining the EU any time soon and indeed may never do so. And – even if she did – the terms of her accession would need to be agreed by every Member State.

So, when the “Leave” campaign warn of “opening our borders to 88 million” (meaning Turkey and the Western Balkans) they cross the boundaries of responsible comment. It is unlikely in the extreme that – I quote – “another 88 million people will soon be eligible for NHS care and school places for their children”.

I assume this distortion of reality was intended to lead the British people into believing that almost the entire population of possible new entrants will wish to relocate to the UK. If so, this is pure demagoguery. I hope that – when the heat of the Referendum is behind us – the proponents of such mischief making will be embarrassed and ashamed at how they have mis-used this issue.

They advance a second migration red herring – that the recent modest rise in our National Living Wage will be “irresistible” to would-be migrants.

This is very dubious. First of all, 40% of all migrants are under 25 and therefore ineligible.

Second, are people really motivated to cross an entire Continent to receive a few pence a week extra? I very much doubt it.

But even if they were – why would they choose the UK, when the minimum wage is higher, for example, in France; and wage levels higher in other countries that have no statutory minimum.

And what of the “numbers” argument?

There are various categories of immigrants. Commonwealth immigration is entirely unaffected by our membership of the EU.

Would-be migrants from around the world need skilled worker visas to enter: and these are under our control.

Refugees are dealt with on a case by case basis. Many of those applying for citizenship have lost everything, and we have always been a compassionate nation. But these decisions are under our control.

But there are clearly undesirables, who we can – and already do – exclude. This includes anyone where there is concern over national security, criminal activity or adverse immigration history. This, too, is already under our control.

But yes, if we were to leave Europe, we could exclude more EU citizens – such as the 54,000 EU migrants now working as Doctors, or Nurses or Ancilliaries in our Health Service, or the nearly 80,000 working in Social Care. We could exclude skilled workers like builders and plumbers – or unskilled labour that takes jobs that are unappealing to the British. In short, the people we could most easily keep out are the very people we most need.

A balanced approach would acknowledge the contribution of migrants to our national wellbeing. Without their contribution, the Health Service would not be able to cope – nor would our public transport system; and our hotels, restaurants and shops would be without staff to serve their customers. We would have a shortage of many skills for industry. This is the reality of what lies beneath the emotive language of those who seek to raise the drawbridge on our country.

This problem of numbers will not be forever. The growth of the Eurozone economy – now clearly underway – should cut demand to come here, as jobs grow elsewhere across Europe. And, in any event, a short term migrancy flow should not be the issue that drives the UK out of an economic union that already benefits our country immensely – and will continue to do so in the future.

I asked earlier: what sort of country are we? And what sort of people are we?

Under our undemonstrative exterior we are an essentially kind and benevolent nation, and more inclined to emotion than the age old caricature of stiff upper lip.

Show us charitable need and we dig deep.

Show us children in need, and we pay up happily.

Show us people starving in Africa, and we text our contributions by the million.

Show us a far away nation suffering from natural disaster, and we rush to help.

We do so because our emotions are touched. But we should not let those emotions be stirred by false fear: nor allow false fear to impair our judgement on the future of our country.

Over the next few weeks we – the British people – will decide the future direction of our country.

This is not a General Election which rolls around every five years: we can’t “suck it and see”. There will not be another Referendum on Europe. This is it.

So – whatever your view – register and vote. Because the decision you take on the 23rd of June will shape our country, our people, and our livelihoods for generations to come.

Sir John Major – 2016 Speech on UK’s Membership of the EU

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Below is the text of the speech made by Sir John Major, the former Prime Minister, in Hong Kong on 7 April 2016.

During the last few days in Hong Kong I have been asked repeatedly whether the UK will leave the European Union.

Almost without exception, the questioners – often investors in the UK – believe it is a bad idea. I will not quote their warnings given to me in private, but let the public remarks of Hong Kong’s Li Ka Shing, a large investor in the UK, speak for many:

“If Brexit really happens”, he said on Bloomberg, “we will surely decrease our investments.”.

Mr Li is not alone. As we move towards the referendum in June, the UK has been warned against exit by – amongst others – China, Japan, America, New Zealand and Australia; by the G20; the Governor of the Bank of England; our military leaders; our leading academics and scientists; and a majority of large and small businesses.

In response, the advocates of Brexit accuse all these sources of “interfering” if they are foreign; or “scaremongering” if they are British.

The “Out” campaign label such warnings – even from distinguished friends of the UK – as “Project Fear”. I disagree. In truth, it is Project Reality – and the British people have a right to be told what is likely to happen if the UK were to leave the EU.

Let me set out my own position.

As Prime Minister I refused to join the Euro currency. I believed it to be premature and risky. I also opted out of the Social Chapter since, at the time, it seemed to give rights to those in work, at the expense of denying work to the millions who were not. And – when it was first introduced – I refused to enter the Schengen agreement on open borders.

I am, therefore, no starry-eyed European enthusiast. Yet I have not a shred of doubt that the UK should remain a Member of the EU.

The case for remaining is most often seen in economic terms. But it is far wider than that. The outcome of the UK Referendum will decide what sort of country we are – and what our wider contribution to the world will be.

When the UK joined the then Common Market our economy was the “sick man” of Europe: today, as a result of our domestic reforms, together with our membership of the European Single Market, we have the best performing economy in Europe.

Within the next 20 years – on present policies and, crucially, with continuing full access to the Single Market – the UK is likely – not certain, but likely – to be the biggest economy in Europe: bigger than Germany.

On issues such as the environment, climate change, internet costs and consumer protection, the UK can best progress – or sometimes, only progress – in unity with our fellow Europeans.

The underlying mantra of the “Out” campaign is – and I use their words – “I want my country back”. It is an emotional appeal, but a bogus one. If emotion triumphs over reality, then all four British nations will lose out: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We will lose power, prestige, security and some of our future economic well-being.

At present, our world is very disturbed. Uncertain. Across Europe, the scales have fallen from our eyes over President Putin. We see Russia threatening her neighbours with trade embargoes, cyber attacks, energy cut-offs, and encouraging pro-Russian minorities to ferment trouble. I am not, and never have been, a Cold War warrior, but we ignore what Russia is doing at our peril.

A united Europe can help penalise and deter her: a disunited, shrivelled Europe cannot.

The faults and frustrations of the EU are widely publicised in the UK: its achievements, less so. But they should be. Across Europe, ancient enemies of many years no longer fight against each other – they work alongside each other.

The EU was the magnet that helped Spain, Portugal and Greece free themselves from fascist dictatorships. It helped the political climate that brought about the Northern Ireland Peace Process.

It helped re-build and heal the Balkans after a terrible conflict. And enlargement of the EU has brought a new future to countries once
imprisoned within the Soviet Empire. So, when we criticise the shortcomings of the EU, we should also remember its considerable successes.

If the UK leaves the EU, the impact will be felt widely – and negatively – not only in the UK but across the EU.

If the UK departs, the EU will lose:

– its fastest growing economy;

– one of only two nuclear powers; and

– the country with the longest and deepest foreign policy reach.

As a result, the EU would be gravely weakened, especially when set against the power of the US and China. Europe – the cradle of modern civilisation – would bow out of super-power influence.

Does the UK really wish to be the cause of that? Does she really wish to abdicate her role in European and global influence? I truly think not – but many enthusiasts for exit either cannot see the danger – or are prepared to run that risk.

The point is this: a UK departure would not only be a huge setback for my own country, but for many other nations too. It would have widespread repercussions – and no-one can be sure what they will be.

For Europe, already facing internal and external crises, it could be one crisis too many. There are hard questions for the UK too, and it is more appropriate for me to raise these in detail at home, rather than overseas. But some are directly relevant to our global trading partners.

Would external investors – China, Japan, America, be more or less likely to invest in the UK if she shrunk to a domestic market of under 65 million, rather than remaining inside a Europe-wide market of over 500 million?

That is not a difficult question to answer. The UK would lose investment and jobs. How much, how many, and how soon is difficult to say – but there is no doubt that would happen.

In the referendum debate, the advocates of leaving claim they can negotiate an arrangement to protect our trade relationship with the EU. After all, they say, the EU needs us because they – the EU – export more to the UK than the UK exports to them. It’s a beguiling soundbite, but they are deceiving themselves. Their argument is, to put it kindly, disingenuous: more accurately, it turns the
truth on its head.

UK exports to Europe are between 40-45% of all our exports: 14% of our overall wealth. On average, across the EU, the other 27 Members States only send 7% of their total exports to us: 2½% of their overall wealth.

In the game of who needs who the most, the answer is clear. If the UK exits the EU, our partners will not be the demandeur in any negotiations on our future access to the single market – the UK will be.

Moreover, it is blithe optimism on a Panglossian scale for the “Out” campaign to assume our partners – having been rebuffed, deserted and weakened – will still feel so well disposed toward the UK that they will be eager to accede to our demands.

I fear the reverse will be true. A divorce, at the behest of one partner, is rarely harmonious – or cheap. Such a broken relationship is more likely to be full of rancour.

The UK will have chosen to leave and, by so doing, will have gravely weakened the whole EU. Some countries will see fifty years of ambition imperilled – and our partners will hardly wish to reward us for that.

Any trade deal the EU might eventually do with us would certainly not be a sweetheart deal: and it may be harder and harsher than the optimists believe.

And if we wished such a deal to include services (and we do – since they represent 80% of the UK economy) – or the removal of hidden non-tariff barriers – it may be a long time coming, not least since it would need the approval of 27 other Member States – many of them angry and disappointed at our departure.

And, of course, the UK would have to accept free movement of people. If we refuse that – there will be no trade deal at all – as Germany, for one, has already made clear.

The UK will face another dilemma with its international trade.
By leaving the EU, we would be withdrawing from Free Trade Agreements with 53 countries negotiated by the EU on behalf of all their Member States. These cover 60% of all UK trade. They will all need re-negotiation: a tough – and almost certainly lengthy – process. It is pure self-deception to believe that less than 65 million Britons will get the same favourable terms as 500 million Europeans.

Nor will bilateral renegotiations of these Free Trade Agreements be a priority for other nations – as America, for one, has made clear. Our partners are more concerned with multilateral trade agreements, and will see the UK’s need for a speedy bilateral deal as a self-imposed own goal: we may well have to wait our turn to have any new deals agreed – and it could take many years.

To brush aside such realities is to play Russian roulette with the economic future of the UK. The battle now joined over Europe has – on one side – the romantic nostalgia of an “Out” campaign that aches for a past that has long gone, in a world that has moved on.

On the other side those – like me – who wish to remain are not European dreamers: we are realists who see an edgy, uncomfortable world, and believe that the UK is safer, more secure and better off remaining with our partners in Europe.

In the Referendum, the easiest slogans inevitably lie with the “Out” campaign, and repudiating their often foolish and extreme claims is for a UK audience. Suffice to say, the “Out” advocates, whether in enthusiasm or ignorance, lace their argument with false statistics and unlikely scenarios.

They promise negotiating gains that cannot – and will not – be delivered. They hail the purported gains of leaving Europe, whilst ignoring even the most obvious obstacles and drawbacks.

Nor can they tell us how they actually see the UK outside of Europe. This is simply astonishing, not least since some of them – for over a quarter of a century – have made a career out of wishing to leave the EU. Yet now they have the opportunity to do so they seem bereft of any real detail.

Some wish to have no relationship at all with the Single Market. Others can’t – or won’t – say what relationship they favour: 25 years of planning, and they still have no idea. Instead, they engage in shrill denunciation of what we have, with no indication of what would replace it.

I understand the frustration that fuels the “Out” campaign, but have no doubt that an exit from the EU would harm our nation, now and in the future. We must not let an emotional spasm of faux-patriotism overcome the realities of the modern world and spin us out of Europe.

We would soon regret it. And our children and grandchildren would regret it even more. That is why – between now and June – I will be doing all I can to persuade the British people that the consequences of our leaving the EU would be bad for the UK, bad for Europe, and bad for the wider world.

I hope and believe that – on 23 June – good sense will prevail, and we can finally lay this particular ghost to rest. I have no doubt that, once it is, our international investors will breathe a large sigh of relief … as most definitely will I.