Major’s right: let MPs decide or put Brexit terms to people

by Hugo Dixon | 28.02.2018

John Major has become the most prominent Tory to call for a referendum on the Brexit terms. The former prime minister’s intervention in the debate will now give cover for other Conservatives to take a similar line. He also wants MPs to have “free vote” on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, assuming she gets one.

In a speech today, Major makes a powerful case for the current prime minister to let MPs vote on the basis of their own conscience – to decide “whether, in mature judgement, they really do believe that the outcome of the negotiations is in the best interests of the people they serve”.

He points out that Brexit was sold to the public on the basis of a series of false promises – more hospitals, more schools, lower taxes, an extra £350 million a week for the NHS, no threat to our place in the EU’s single market, a frictionless border in Ireland and so forth. “Every one of the Brexit promises is – to quote Henry Fielding – ‘a very wholesome and comfortable doctrine to which (there is) but one objection: namely, that it is not true.’”

Major says the 2016 referendum gave the government an obligation to negotiate Brexit – but not to quit the EU at any costs. The only mandate is to get a “Brexit that honours the promises made in the referendum” – and those probably can’t be met.

As a result, voters have every right to reconsider their decision two years ago. And parliament has the right to accept May’s terms, reject them, seek an improvement or “order a referendum” on the Brexit deal.

The former premier seeks to persuade May to give MPs a free vote on grounds both of principle and self-interest: Brexit “will affect the lives of the British people for generations to come. If it flops – there will be the most terrible backlash” – and the voters will know whom to blame.

But if the current prime minister says no to a free vote, Major calls on MPs to vote on the basis of their own conscience anyway. As more facts emerge, the so-called “will of the people” may change. “So, let Parliament decide. Or put the issue back to the people.”

Hats off to Major. He is a Tory through and through. But he is prepared to put the national interest above his party. The pro-Brexit press will, no doubt, throw buckets of sick over his head in an attempt to discredit him. But that won’t stick. He is an honest man – and generally recognised now as more of a statesman than a politician.

When he was prime minister, he kept the UK out of the euro and Europe’s border-free Schengen Area. Major was the politician who actually delivered “cake and eat it”. We have the best of both worlds: access to the EU’s vast market without the two biggest problems. Major has now made a patriotic case for a free vote in Parliament, a referendum on the Brexit terms and an end to the madness. Voters should listen.

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    Edited by Luke Lythgoe

    13 Responses to “Major’s right: let MPs decide or put Brexit terms to people”

    • All reasonable people expect that terms and conditions apply & need to be carefully checked. We, the people, should have that right when the negotiation results are known. May asked the people for a mandate in the election and didn’t get one. Her majority evaporated. The people were listening & answered then – there is no blank checque!!

    • Wouldn’t it be good if more and more senior politicians came out and said the same? The more voices that state the simple facts (as they are becoming apparent) rather than the pipe-dreams of a few hard-right individuals, the more the message might sink home to those who are only informed by the right-wing gutter press. That way we might get a second referendum before its too late.

    • Very good to have some straight talking instead of the usual Brexit bluster of mixed wishful thinking and misinformation. E.g. Mrs May’s ridiculous and embarrassing response to today’s perfectly sensible comment by M. Barnier that it is up to her, not the EU, to spell out just how a hard border is to be avoided in Ireland if she doesn’t want full regulatory alignment. Coupled with David Jones MP, former Brexit Minister, saying on this morning’s Today programme that any proposal by the EU for full alignment would be “completely unacceptable to the mass of the Northern Irish people” – effectively contradicting the undeniable fact that the majority in N. Ireland voted to Remain in the EU. (Not picked up by John Humphreys incidentally – whose side is he on?)

      It is sad that John Major feels it necessary to tell MPs to vote in the best interests of the Country rather than of the Conservative party, but it evidently needs saying. (If a party whip applies pressure on an MP to vote otherwise than in accordance with his/her best judgement on such an issue, is the whip not guilty of contempt of Parliament? If not, why not?) Nevertheless if Parliament is for rejecting whatever terms are negotiated and for remaining in the EU, I do not see how that can be given effect, and the 20216 referendum vote reversed, without also putting it to the electorate in a further referendum. The first referendum should never have been promised, but having had it, John Major’s Bastards will never be sufficiently suppressed without another.

    • I didn’t agree with everything he did as PM but, regardless of party, he does seem a fair and reasonable person. I have a selfish reason for maintaining the status quo of EU membership: we bought a house in Spain before the referendum to retire here and, although it appears that most things will remain the same after whatever Brexit eventually happens, our pensions are all in GBP and the fall in its value reduces the value of the pensions. Although there may be many aspects of the EU that need reform I can see no benefits whatsoever in leaving the EU. I believe that most people in the UK will be economically poorer, including many of the working class tory voters who appear so vociferously adamant that leaving the EU will take back control: control of what? The UK will become a small player with little or no influence on the world stage whereas in the EU it has a major influence in the richest trading block in the world. As you can see, not all of the older generation want a return to the rose-tinted days before the EU.

    • The “politician who actually delivered ‘cake and eat it’” was in fact David Cameron, who secured an agreement from the rest of the EU – in his much derided “renegotiation” – that Britain would no longer be committed to “ever closer union”. We would have had an officially recognised “special status” which would have allowed us to enjoy all the economic advantages of membership with none of the political/integrationist commitments – a status we had been seeking for 40 years or so. The tragedy was that Cameron didn’t understand the profound significance of his achievement, which could have provided the basis for a winning referendum campaign.

    • Lisa, Yes, why don’t they? The one thing that has united senior politicians from all parties over the last two generations is their commitment to be an active participant in Europe. But they are all very quiet, given the significance of the leaving the EU referendum decision. Perhaps they are ashamed that so many people are angry about the state of the nation that their protest vote to leave the EU succeeded. I have been a Eurosceptic…..well who likes bureaucrats, but I’m Westminster phobic……they’ve done far more damage to us in the U.K. than Brussels. The thought of that bunch “taking back control” is very scary. I’m a proud Remoaner! In case you haven’t guessed.

    • Fully support John Major’s comments.
      He always was sensible and realistic.
      Hope the country listens to him.
      Margaret Daly
      Former MEP

    • Major is absolutely right. All other Remain Tories should be publicly backing him and be speaking out themselves.

    • Excellent article. However, as someone living in France, I would certainly not characterise the Euro and Schengen as the “two biggest problems” of membership, especially when I travel to other countries that are in both.


    • I never liked John Major as a PM but he is speaking common sense now, it’s obvious that the remain team didn’t explain the true consequences of what Brexit would mean to the UK ,if they had I’m sure the outcome would have been different!

    • In a Channel 4 News interview yesterday evening, John Snow asked “What about the will of the people?” John Major replied “37% voted to leave , 67% didn’t” Snow blinked and went to his next question!
      More interviewees need to say this—-it stops interviewers in their tracks. My current version is “62% were wise enough not to swallow the blatant lies the Brexiters told throughout the campaign”

    • James Cook: would it have made any difference? Everything the remain side said was dismissed as project fear and ignored by the voters. Northern Ireland was discussed – and dismissed. The threat to the economy was discussed – and dismissed. The unlikelihood of getting a cake and eat it deal was discussed – and dismissed. Anything else we could have brought forward would have had the same treatment.