Sir John Major gives speech on Brexit


“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 won’t be.

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 of people.

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 credible.

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 corner.

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.”

~ Sir John Major, at Somerset House, 28th February 2018.

Full transcript of speech:


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