Sir John Major, former Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1990-1997, has said that MPs should be free to accept or reject a final Brexit deal agreed upon during negotiations between the EU and the UK.
At a speech in London to the Creative Industries Federation, Major was extremely critical of Theresa May’s handling of negotiations with the EU. Major has always been a Europhile, and campaigned alongside former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and David Cameron for Britain to remain in the 2016 referendum.
Major insists he is not “targeting” Theresa May, but that MP’s must be able to vote with their “own conscience” on a deal whose terms may leave the UK in a worse position than it currently is in. He is trying to offer an alternative view from some of the lobbying within the Conservative party, which he sees as “very unwelcome from the point of the well-being of the country”.
Major addressing the House of Commons during his time as PM (Source: Parliament)
Jacob Rees-Mogg, a supporter of a hard Brexit and influential Tory backbencher, said that Major is simply “getting it wrong” on Europe again, accusing him of trying to “overturn” the democratic vote to leave the European Union.
Major is no stranger to divisions within the Conservative party over Europe, as it was the single issue which arguably defined his premiership. He described leaving the EU as “an issue so far-reaching, so permanent, that it will have an impact on all our lives – most especially on the young and the future”. Because of the importance of the “most divisive issue of [his] lifetime”, Major believes that a deal must be freely agreed to by Parliament, as opposed to one forced through it at the “behest of a minority of convinced opponents of Europe”.
Major argues that the government must change its negotiating strategy, given that Brexit is likely to leave the country “weaker and less prosperous”, and therefore the government should focus on achieving attainable goals rather than pandering to the Hard Brexiteers of the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg.
One of the unattainable goals he referred to was the promise of the Leave campaign to spend an extra £350 million a week on the NHS, calling it a “ridiculous phantom”. He claims that since the vote to leave the EU, “many electors know they were misled”, and the ones that don’t know yet are “beginning to realise it”, therefore they have the right to “reconsider their decision”. This reconsideration could be in the form of a new referendum, in which the electorate has the opportunity to approve what has been determined. Sir John claims a “sovereign” parliament must have the option to call one in the future if it so wishes.
Tory Backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg (Source: Parliament)
To the shock of absolutely no one, Brexiteers in the Conservative Party have rallied behind Theresa May, and have criticised Major’s speech. Rees-Mogg pointed out the hypocrisy of Major calling for a free vote on a Brexit deal when he subjected Eurosceptic rebels in the 1990’s to the “most aggressive form” of whipping, when voting over the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty. Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said the idea of another referendum was “rather absurd, pointing out that the people have already spoken on the question of Europe, now is the time to make arrangements to facilitate the process of leaving.