David Cameron’s attempts to renegotiate Britain’s membership of the EU really doesn’t matter too much, according to former Prime Minister John Major.
Speaking to the BBC’s Today Programme, Major, in office from 1990 to 1992, insisted that regardless of whether EU leaders decide to meet Cameron’s renegotiation demands at a big meeting on Thursday, it will not and should not decide if the UK remains in the European Union.
What does concern me a little is that everybody is regarding Thursday and Friday as if it were high noon and everything was going to be decided then. Unless I’ve very much missed the mark, I don’t think it will be. It’s a process, there will be discussion aimed at an agreement … My view is that this renegotiation is important, but that it shouldn’t decide whether or not we remain inside the European Union because of the importance of the issue.
Major might not think that Cameron’s renegotiation efforts are that important, but recent polls disagree with him. A poll from ICM Tuesday showed that if Cameron fails to secure greater control over the arrival of immigrants from inside the EU, the majority of the British public will be in favour of leaving the EU.
The public might want to leave the EU if more restrictions aren’t placed on immigration, but Major warned that leaving could actually make things worse. He said that if we were out of the EU, France might stop manning the borders properly at Calais, and let non-EU migrants into Britain.
In or out, we can’t keep the world at bay. And if we were out, one questions arises. Would France be holding so many immigrants at Calais, or would they not? And if not, they would be heading here.
Major was also very sceptical about some of the arguments people who want Britain to leave the EU are giving. He said the idea that Britain would save money is not true and warned that a departure from Europe would be “acrimonious.”
Many of the things we are told we would regain with sovereignty are illusory, let me run through some of them. People say we can save on our net contribution, not true. We would have to pay at least as much and possibly more of it for entry to the single market. They say we can easily renegotiate entry to the single market, that’s very disingenuous. If we leave the European Union, it won’t be a friendly departure, it would be very acrimonious. Negotiations with an irate ex-partner could be very difficult. We may get a very substandard deal to enter the single market … Flirting with leaving at a moment when the whole world is coming together seems to me very dangerous and against our long-term interests.
Major’s five years as Prime Minister were dominated by the question of whether Britain should remain in the EU. Major himself was in favour of remaining in the EU, but many people in his party strongly disagreed. In 1993, several member of his own party voted against an amendment that was necessary to ratify the Maastricht Treaty, the treaty that formally established the EU, leading to the defeat of the bill. Major managed to win a new vote the next day, but it seriously damaged his authority as Prime Minister.
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