Former PM says Brexit camp is playing a very dangerous game and risks racial tensions
Former UK Prime Minister Sir John Major – who negotiated Britain’s opt-outs from several EU directives on working time and free movement – said some of his fellow Tories should be ashamed of their Brexit fear mongering. Sir John, addressing the Oxford Union, said Michael Gove and Boris Johnson were playing a dangerous game that could cause damaging divisions in UK society.
In particular, Justice Secretary Michael Gove should, he said, be ’embarrassed and ashamed’ about claims Britain’s borders will be opened to 88 million more people if voters do not back Brexit. He was scathing about Mr. Gove’s ‘mischief making’ over warnings about the future expansion of the EU and his claims that new countries entering the EU will put unbearable strain on schools, the NHS and housing.
Sir John also called on Mr Gove, Boris Johnson and Iain Duncan Smith to apologise for “peddling” false figures about the cost to Britain of being in the EU. Above all, he said, their dangerous and careless language about immigration could do long term damage to British society, he said.
“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 misused this issue,” said Sir John who grew up in Brixton.
The Brexit campaigners were turning into Ukip and “fuelling prejudice” with their offensive and dangerous falsehoods, he said.
“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.’
“We must not let emotions be stirred by false fear: nor allow that false fear to impair our judgement on the future of our country.
“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 ancillaries 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,” he said. Sir John, who is a Companion of Honour to the Queen and refused offers of peerages to sit in the House of Lords, was outspoken on several topics at the Oxford Union.
‘Trump would be my second choice… my first choice would be anyone else’
John Major’s other comments at the Oxford Union address
On Donald Trump
‘I cannot believe I would vote Republican if the candidate is Trump. He would be my second choice. My first choice would be anyone else.’
On the ‘bastards’ facing him when he was in office, and the opponents of David Cameron from within the Conservatives: ‘I would not like to speak for the PM, but as for me. I had been up for 2 nights, but I was talking privately and not on record. I should not have spoken in that way, but my only defence is that – it was true.’
On the expansion of the EU in 2004 and 2007
‘I think the ’04 and ’07 expansions within the EU were a little premature. It was premature to have the Euro in 1999. Europe was not ready for it. A problem in the EU, has been over enthusiasm in the past.’
On the EU Referendum
‘If we were to leave, the world would consider us diminished. Departure would be a gratuitous act of self-harm.’ ‘[Leaving] is nothing other than reckless, imprudent folly. And the price for that would be paid by every British family.’
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.’
On the “Leave” campaign and scaremongering over immigration
‘Like much we hear from the “Leave” campaign, the sovereignty argument is emotive but specious.’ ‘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.’
‘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.’ ‘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.’
‘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.’