Friday, 14 November 2014
UK Could be forced out of EU - John Major
Sir John Major has issued a powerful warning to Britain’s natural allies across Europe that they risk forcing the UK out of the EU unless they agree to a series of reforms including restrictions on the free movement of people.
In a heartfelt plea to members of Angela Merkel’s CDU party in Berlin, the former prime minister said he was sounding the alarm as he warned that the chances of Britain leaving the EU now stand at “just under 50%”.
Speaking at the CDU’s main thinktank, the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Major said: “I put the chance of exit at just under 50%...I ask our European partners to realise we are close to a breach that is in no-one’s interest. Britain’s frustration is no game. It is not a political ploy to gain advantages and concessions from our partners. There is a very real risk of separation that could damage the future of the United Kingdom – and Europe as a whole.
Major added: “What we must all realise is that a divorce may be final. Absolute. A reconciliation would be unlikely.”
But the former prime minister, whose speech was sent to Downing Street, appeared to rebuke David Cameron, who has annoyed the German chancellor and other leaders with the strength of his rhetoric against the EU in recent months. Major told his Berlin audience: “I hope both sides will approach the negotiations with care: with a determination to find a solution – not justify a breach. Wise negotiators will tone down the oratory and turn up the diplomacy.”
The former prime minister famously moved to repair relations with the EU after replacing Margaret Thatcher in 1990 by travelling to Germany to declare that he wanted Britain to remain at the heart of the EU. Nearly a quarter of a century later, he has decided to travel back to Germany and to return because he fears that the UK is in danger of stumbling out of the union. He says he feels uncomfortable about some of the rhetoric in Britain but he also believes that some EU leaders do not appreciate that Britain is serious about achieving reform.
In a speech designed to influence Merkel, who is regarded by Downing Street as the key player in the negotiations, Major gave an indication of the issues that Cameron will place on the negotiating table ahead of an in/out referendum by the end of 2017, if the Tories win the general election next year. These include reforms to the freedom of movement and placing subsidiarity – defined by Major as the principle that the EU should act only where a nation state cannot – on a new legal footing.
In a clear message to the German chancellor, who has ruled out reform of the principle of free movement of people, Major said a failure to make concessions in this area would push Britain to the exit. He said the recent influx of migrants from eastern Europe and other parts of the EU represented one of the largest population movements in peacetime Europe.
Speaking in highly personal terms, Major said he felt deeply uncomfortable about talking about restrictions on immigration.
He said: “I hate having to make this argument. I hate it. As a boy, I was brought up among immigrants in south London. They were my friends and my neighbours. I have huge admiration for people prepared to uproot themselves to find work and a better way of life for themselves and their families. It takes a great deal of courage to do so. They deserve a warm welcome – not a chilly rebuff.”
He added: “If immigration to the UK were to continue at its current rate, by 2060 our population will have increased by a quarter. During that same period, the population of Germany will have fallen. We don’t wish to batten down the hatches. We’re saying we have a problem, and we need help, maybe only a short-term problem. Let us discuss it and reach an accommodation”
“Ukip are anti-everything: they’re anti-foreigner, they’re anti-Europe, they’re anti-politics, anti- I haven’t found out what they are for. But by goodness, we know what they’re against. In a world looking for hope, a negative body like that is not somewhere to put you vote, your hope or your trust. We have to take on that argument.”
But Major challenged Merkel and other EU leaders who have said that they cannot countenance any change to the free movement of people on the grounds that it is one of the four freedoms enshrined in the EEC’s founding Treaty of Rome in 1957, those being the free movement of people, capital, goods and services.
The former prime minister said EU leaders were in no position to offer lectures on the four freedoms because the other three have never been properly implemented.
He said: “I hear it said by eminent Europeans that freedom of movement is sacrosanct. It is one of the four freedoms set out in the founding treaty. The argument is that if we tamper with freedom of movement, the other freedoms will fall.
“I understand that view but it has a flaw. Twenty-five years after the Single European Act, the other founding freedoms are not fully honoured by the EU. Not one of them. If freedom of movement is immutable, when will member states complete the single market? When will they end closed shops and protectionism, and open their markets to British services – especially our professional services? When will they fully integrate capital markets? Or the energy market? Or digital? Need I go on? If these had been implemented in full, then Britain’s case on free movement would be weakened. But they are not.”
The former prime minister also challenged opponents of the EU when he warned that Britain would be damaged if it withdrew. He said: “Once divorced from Europe, we would have a diminished voice in the world – a lesser voice with our allies, and in every international forum. The UK would sink to a lower level of importance in the world. For the first time in 300 years, we would become a diminished European power. The doors along the corridors of international power would begin to close to us.”
Major’s aides insist that his speech is intended to be wholly supportive of the prime minister. But Ed Miliband said: “John Major’s speech is a pretty devastating indictment of David Cameron. You’ve got John Major, who basically believes in Britain remaining in the EU, saying in not very coded terms that the prime minister’s strategy is burning alliances and burning bridges and not helping Britain in Europe.”
Culled from The Guardian.