Sir John Major's Full Brexit Speech
This is the full transcript of Sir John Major's speech on Brexit at Somerset House.
SPEECH BY THE RT HON SIR JOHN MAJOR KG CH
WEDNESDAY, 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
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
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.
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
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
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
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. Noone – 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
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
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
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
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
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 clo