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As our worst fears over the lies, corruption and selfishness of Brexit become reality former Prime Minister John Major outlines what lies ahead...

Taken from The Spectator Article dated 9 November 2020

John Major...The reality of Brexit

The core change in the New Britain being forged is – Brexit. It has been hidden behind Covid for a few months. It has not gone away. You have to be wilfully in denial not to see the damage already done, and not to be concerned at what it might mean.

Brexit divided England and Wales from Scotland and Northern Ireland. It divided political parties and families; the young and their elders; business and trade unions; and friend from friend. As its full impact becomes apparent in the New Year, old wounds may re-open.


There is no consensus on Brexit, and never has been. It was a bitterly divisive policy, and uncorked a populism that may be difficult to quell.


The Referendum debate was unlike any I have known before. Emotion overcame reality. And, in the search for hearts and minds and votes, fiction defeated fact and fostered a belief in a past that never was – whilst boosting enthusiasm for a future that may never be. If that mode of politics takes root, it will kill all respect in our system of government.


In the Referendum, Britons voted to leave the European Union. I have never hidden my view, nor have I changed it. To my mind – and I am no starry-eyed European – Brexit is the worst foreign policy decision in my lifetime.


I have seen the EU from the inside and know its frustrations. But have no doubt we were better off in than we will be out. The decision to leave will damage our future in many ways, and the reassurances we are given are unconvincing.


Brexit was sold to our electors on false premises. Promises made will not – indeed, cannot – be kept. To leave the EU – to separate ourselves from our neighbours – was sold as “regaining sovereignty”, but it is, and will prove to be, a long and painful ball and chain on our national wellbeing.


After the Referendum, Brexiteers did not even bother to argue the merits of their case – why should they? – it was “the will of the people”. And once “the will of the people” was asserted as a repeated mantra – and the Brexit leaders claimed to speak for all “the people” – any opposition to Brexit became illegitimate, and any contrary view was howled down.


Free speech for those who supported remaining in the EU came at a price. They were pilloried as “Remoaners”: sticking to long-held principles and policies, and warning of clear dangers ahead was depicted as “sour grapes by sore losers”.


Even Judges were denounced as “Enemies of the People” for ruling on a Point of Law. Opponents of Brexit were cowed, and free speech was curtailed. It was shameful. No democracy should find itself in such a position.


Overseas, the outcome of the Referendum delighted our enemies and dismayed our friends. As our nation voted against its history and its self-interest, a bemused world looked on, wondering why we had chosen to become poorer and less influential.


Brexit was sold to the nation as a win-win situation. It is not. We were promised we would stay in the Single Market. We have not. We were told trade with the EU would be frictionless. It will not be. We were promised we would save billions in payments to the European Union: a bus was driven around the country telling us so. Not so: Brexit is costing billions – not saving them. We were told that our “liberated country” could cut back on bureaucracy and regulations. We now know they will increase – and dramatically. We were promised we would strike lucrative trade deals with America, India, China and others in quick time. Japan apart – we have not.


More recently – and for the first time in our long history – Ministers have proposed legislation giving them powers to break the law. This is a slippery slope down which no democratic Government should ever travel.


And, it was claimed, Brexit wouldn’t increase support for Scottish independence or a united Ireland. It has. It defies logic that intelligent men and women making such extravagant promises did not know they were undeliverable – and yet they continued to make them. It was politics. It was campaigning. It was for a cause. It was also unforgivable.


If that is how we are going to conduct our public affairs, then not only will our politics truly fall into a bad place, but our word as a nation will no longer be trusted.



Trade has always been the life-blood of our prosperity. We were promised a comprehensive trade deal with the EU. We were told this would be “the easiest deal in history” because “we hold all the cards”. Apparently not.


As the politics changed, the promises were ditched. We can now look forward to a flimsy, barebones deal – or no deal at all. This is a wretched betrayal of what our electors were led to believe. It now seems that on 1 January next year, Brexit may be even more brutal than anyone expected.


Brexit is no friend of free trade with Europe. It may set up new tariff barriers. And it certainly will:

- set up non-tariff barriers;

- damage supply chains;

- add to regulations;

- demand new customs and security declarations;

- require Rules of Origin to prove where spare parts came from;

- require tens of thousands of customs agents to process 

- new bureaucracy;

- create huge stockpiling dilemmas; and

- require new massive storehouses to hold supplies.


These costs and complexities are the certain legacy of Brexit. This is as a result of our negotiating failure – and it is a failure. Because of our bombast, our blustering, our threats and our inflexibility – our trade will be less profitable, our Treasury poorer, our jobs fewer, and our future less prosperous.


This is not hindsight wisdom: this outcome was not only foreseeable, it was foreseen. Unfortunately, in a brilliant mis-direction, all warnings were scorned as “Project Fear” and ignored. And, to add tragedy to farce, it was the people who were misled who will now lose out. The Government has not been frank about our negotiations with Europe.


They say we are merely asking for a Canada deal, but that’s not so. We are asking for a deal without tariffs or quotas and for more on haulage, on energy, on aviation – and we are a bigger trading rival than Canada and nearer to the EU. The Canada comparison is – to put it kindly – disingenuous. And to refer to an Australian deal is absurd. There is no Australia deal. It is a fantasy: a euphemism for no deal at all – and the Government should say so.


Its reputation will suffer if it is not honest with the British people about this. It is time to stop putting Ministers on the media who speak to a pre-prepared script and parrot misleading or pointless slogans. There are hopes of trade deals with America, China and India. They would be welcome but, once again, the promises are overdone.


One day, I am sure, we will get the much-heralded trade deal with America, originally promised for last Spring, then Summer – now, who knows? When it does come, it will benefit America far more than us. It may be symbolically important, but it won’t be an economic game-changer.


The promised trade deal with China is highly unlikely in any near timescale. Our ice-cold diplomatic relations with Russia rule out a trade deal with her, too. And, if we wish to have a trade deal with India, the Government must realise that we cannot seek it on a Monday, and restrict immigration from India on Tuesday – it is a poor optic and a worse negotiating strategy.


The macro arguments against Brexit: the economic and social damage, our weaker position in the world, and the loss of trade advantages, may seem remote. They won’t prove to be.



And lesser issues will impact directly:

- the loss of freedom of movement in Europe;

- higher food prices;

- more expensive holidays;

- the withdrawal of EU driving licences;

- the cost of health insurance without the free cover of the European Health Card;

- the loss of the Pet Passport Scheme and the expensive – and time-consuming – effort to get approval for pets to travel;

- higher roaming charges for mobile phones;

- slower entry and more delays at European airports; and

- the loss of the automatic right to work, live or study in the EU.

Small irritations, some may say, but – collectively – a significant loss of freedom that will be an unwelcome surprise to many as Europe itself begins to “take back control”.


When the present phase of Brexit is over, it is important we negotiate a more comprehensive relationship with the EU than is likely to emerge from the present negotiations. We should seek bilateral agreements in areas of trade and policy which have not been agreed in these rushed negotiations. We should work with the EU to address global problems.


And we should recognise that the nations of the EU are bound with ourselves in ties of common interest, history and future destiny.


To ignore this would be a dereliction of our national interests.


Link to BBC article on it.