Below is the text of Sir John Major’s speech at the Oxford Union made on Friday 13 May 2016.
SIR JOHN MAJOR:
This is my first formal speech in the Referendum campaign, and it is appropriate that it is here –
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 –
What sort of country are we? For hundreds of years we’ve been a positive force in 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-
Within the EU, we are a large and influential nation and –
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-
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 –
Outside Europe, we would still have to comply with EU rules and regulations, unless we surrendered all access to the Single Market –
And, once out –
Nominally, we would indeed be “free”, but –
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 –
Yet many people –
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-
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 –
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 –
The “Leave” campaign fret that we have surrendered our “sovereignty” to Europe. That is a very rum claim: and –
But this is our choice –
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 –
Of course, we don’t always get our own way. Who does in any relationship of two –
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-
And if any new Treaty seeks more power, that Treaty would have to be put to the British nation in a Referendum and if –
A final point on sovereignty: we have sovereignty in its purest and most potent form: we –
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 –
I grew up in Brixton in the 1950s –
So, I can tell you, as a matter of fact, not fantasy, that those I knew then –
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 –
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 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 –
They advance a second migration red herring –
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 –
And what of the “numbers” argument?
There are various categories of immigrants. Commonwealth immigration is entirely unaffected by our membership of the EU.
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 –
But yes, if we were to leave Europe, we could exclude more EU citizens –
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 –
This problem of numbers will not be forever. The growth of the Eurozone economy –
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 –
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.