Sir John Major, who led Britain from 1990 until 1997, said yesterday the UK has “just under 50 percent” likelihood of leaving the European Union. At a speech in Berlin he expressed his ongoing support for Britain’s membership of the EU, but said Eurosceptics had attained a “critical mass” in England, which makes up the lion share of the UK population.
Major’s comments come as David Cameron tries to renegotiate elements of the UK’s relationship with Brussels. He hopes curbs on Eastern European immigration, and cuts in benefits from foreign nationals may make the EU more popular before the in/out referendum he has promised in 2017. But Cameron’s efforts to reform the EU appear to have fallen on deaf ears in Brussels with President Jean-Claude Juncker describing free movement as a “central part of the EU”.
Sir John warned Europeans against ignoring Cameron’s demands, saying the 50 percent likelihood of the UK leaving would rise “if the negotiations go badly”. He also claimed the numbers wanting to leave the EU would fall if the negotiations went well.
He said: “I know that, during the 40 years of our membership, we have never been a comfortable partner. Within our country, there has always been a dissenting minority, unhappy at our place in Europe, and eager to persuade us to leave. As the EU has moved from economic to political co-operation, that minority of malcontents has grown.
“In England, which is 85 percent of the population of the United Kingdom, opposition has reached a critical mass and now, for the first time, there is a serious possibility that our electorate could vote to leave the EU. I put the chance of exit at just under 50 percent.
“But if the negotiations go badly that percentage will rise. Conversely, with genuine reform, it will fall. I ask our European partners to realise we are close to a breach that is in no-one’s interest. Britain’s frustration is no game.”
Major’s premiership is generally accepted to have been ruined because of his efforts to push through the Maastricht Treaty that committed the UK to closer European integration. He faced a backbench rebellion and opposition within his own cabinet, but did get the treaty through the House of Commons in the end.
His speech comes just days after Breitbart London reported Major’s former Chancellor Ken Clarke claimed Margaret Thatcher was a pro-European. Clarke also said that Eurosceptics had “re-written history” 20 years ago, and that was the reason the Conservatives had not won an election since 1992. He was referring to the period around the signing of the Maastricht Treaty.
The full text of the speech is available here.