David Cameron is heading off to a European Council meeting tomorrow, where talks will continue on reforming Britain’s relationship with Brussels. But this will not yield results instantly, according to one of his predecessors. Sir John Major explained on the Today programme this morning why Thursday and Friday won’t be ‘high noon’ for these talks:
‘It’s a process, there will be discussion aimed at an agreement. That discussion will take place, everybody will leave and state their own positions but underneath that, there will be a movement either towards an agreement or against and we won’t actually know about that until they come to the crunch sometime next year.’
Although Major said he does not want be Cameron’s backseat driver — a reference to his own time in No.10 succeeding Margaret Thatcher — he made an impassioned defence of Britain’s EU membership. Arguing that he was ‘not a starry eyed European’, Major said he was ‘sceptical of a great deal of European Union policy’ but:
‘Flirting with leaving, at a moment when the whole world is coming together seems to me to be very dangerous and against our long term interests. We see America and Japan and other countries forming a transpacific partnership. Now of course, that’s trade but it’s also common standards, it’s bringing people together.
‘The whole world is coming together and for the United Kingdom, 67 million out of a world population of 7 billion, to break off and head off into splendid isolation doesn’t seem to me to be in our interests now, or perhaps more important, in the interests of our children and our grandchildren and future generations’.
As well as this positive view of remaining in the EU, Major had some some warnings about leaving. He said it wouldn’t be a friendly departure but ‘very acrimonious’ and ‘negotiations with an irate ex partner could be very difficult, we may get a very substandard deal to enter the single market’. He also dismissed the idea Britain would regain control of her borders:
‘In or out, we can’t keep the world at bay. And if we were out, one question arises: in present circumstances, would France be holding so many immigrants at Calais or would they not? And if not, they be heading here’.
As the Vote Leave campaign has already pointed out, there are similarities between what Major said and the message of the Stronger In campaign. If nothing else, he brings gravitas and clarity to that side of the debate. Given his role as a respected elder statesman who has been through his own battles with Brussels, it is likely we’ll be hearing much more from Sir John as the referendum campaign gains momentum.