The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997


Sir John Major’s Article in the Evening Standard – 30 October 2018

Below is the text of the article by Sir John Major which was published in the Evening Standard on 30 October 2018. Mentioned in the article is the ‘Our Future, Our Choice’ report.

Our decision to leave the EU is one of the most divisive in British history. Brexit has divided the component parts of the UK, placing England and Wales (as “Leavers”) in opposition to Scotland and Northern Ireland.

It has divided our mainstream political parties, business and commerce, communities, friends, families — and generations. In many cases, these scars run deep, and will not be easily healed.

People who voted for Brexit did so with high hopes — most of which will be unrealised. We were told we would keep the advantages of the single market. We will not. That we would be better off. We will not. That we would get cash back to fund the NHS. We will not. That trade deals could be negotiated overnight. They will not. That the Irish border would not present a problem. But it has — and it will continue to do so.

The public were offered pipe dreams, not realities. The industrialist, the financier, the fisherman and the farmer will come to realise that, as will the health worker, the scientist, the businessman or woman, and the family member guarding the household purse.

We were told that there were “no downsides” to Brexit. Reality checks from expert opinion were dismissed as fearmongering by the “elite”.

This was misdirection on a classic scale.

Under every scenario that has been independently modelled — even by our own government — the UK will be poorer and weaker, and the poorest regions and the least well-off will suffer the most. No-one could — or should — be complacent about that.

A fresh analysis by Our Future, Our Choice, a group of young people who are campaigning for a vote on any Brexit deal, now sets out with great clarity the implications for young people. The report indicates that the younger generation can expect a big loss of earnings, at or around £76,000 by 2050 under a World Trade Organisation-terms exit.

On this basis, a hard Brexit would cost young people three times what they pay for university, or double the deposit needed to buy a house. I do not believe that those who voted Leave intended for their own children and grandchildren to be worse off.

As negotiations have proceeded — and the downsides become clear — the inevitable question arises: how could the UK have voted to enact such a policy of self-harm? And how can the fervent Brexiteers in Parliament continue to ignore and dismiss every warning — even when those warnings seem ever more likely to be true?

History may well judge that, for a time, the world’s most pragmatic nation lost her gift of promoting national self-interest. Once more we must look to Parliament to safeguard our interests. As the facts become known, Parliament — our ultimate sovereign power — will need to decide whether the deal presented to them meets the promises made to the British people. If it does not, I believe Parliament would be right to order a “binding” referendum.

Such a further — and final — referendum would be controversial, especially among those who fear they may lose it. I accept it is not an easy option. But the moral — and democratic — case for voting upon proven facts, rather than peddled fiction, is rock solid. The reverse is also true: how can it be right to hold people to a decision made upon so many false promises?

It is neither right nor wise, especially for our young. Their recent report — published last week — is poignantly entitled Our Future, Our Choice but of course it was never the choice of the young, who voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU while many elders voted to leave.
And there is something unjust that so many of the younger generation — who will have to live with the fallout from Brexit for the longest period — are to be denied any say in the process.

Since June 2016, there are now nearly two million more young people who are eligible to vote, a large majority of whom intend to vote in any potential second referendum. Of those certain to vote, an astonishing 87 per cent would opt to stay in the European Union.

One final thought: I have a word of caution for the fervent Brexiteers that is kindly meant — even though they will not wish to hear it. If, in pursuit of the “no deal” Brexit they favour, they vote to delay approval of any other options by Parliament, or deny the nation a binding referendum, they will have nowhere to hide if — as so many forecast — Brexit harms our national wellbeing.

Those responsible for forcing through a policy that impairs the prospects of the British people will be held accountable for many years to come. They will not be forgotten — and may well not be forgiven — by those they misled.

It is, therefore, in the Brexiteers’ own interests to support a final decision by a Parliament unhampered by political coercion, or by a nation in possession of all the facts on how the lives of its citizens will be impacted by the decision that is taken. This is hardly a novel proposition: it is democracy — and our own sovereignty — in action. One might even call it the will of the people.