Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard has urged Britain to exit the European Union (EU) because it is a “fundamentally flawed concept” that is an “affront to the sovereignty of its member countries.”
“If I were British, I would vote to leave,” Mr Howard told the Sky News Australia on Sunday morning.
“The British people are, in effect, being asked to support an arrangement … where Britain is half in, half out and I just don’t think that is going to work.”
Mr Howard, Australia’s second longest serving prime minister and mentor to conservative successor Tony Abbott, said the push for greater integration had gone “too far” and the EU’s 28 member states were demeaned by their inability to trade with the rest of the world.
“The European Union is an affront to the sovereignty of its member countries,” he said.
“Britain can’t really control her borders, and she can’t really exercise the sort of authority when it comes to negotiating free trade agreements,” he said, adding that Britain could not strike a free-trade agreement with China as an example.
“It went too far, and once you set in motion the process towards political integration it either becomes unstoppable, or it begins to fall apart and I think on either ground there is a case for Britain leaving.”
Mr Howard said his view that Britain should head for the exit had galvanised in the past year as he had watched the effect of the “terrible human tragedy of mass migration” on Europe’s ability to control its borders.
He also criticised German Chancellor Angela Merkel for putting in place policies that may have “encouraged” the influx of refugees from Syria and Iraq.
“Europe is really groaning under the weight of this refugee influx and I feel desperately sorry for countries like Greece and Italy … and Turkey,” he said.
“All of it is a consequence of the collapse of civil society in Syria and parts of Iraq which really goes back to the undue passivity and weakness of the west.”
Mr Howard’s view on Europe’s open borders is predicated on his experience as Australia’s leader in the late 1990s and early 2000s when boatloads of illegal economic migrants began arriving on the country’s shores after travelling from the Middle East and entering via Indonesia.
His solution was to implement what he called the ‘Pacific Solution’ which meant the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) was legally authorized to detain any intending migrants trying to arrive by boat. They were denied entry and sent offshore for processing in third countries before eventual repatriation to their home countries.
The RAN also sank the intercepted migrant boats at sea with naval gunfire – after the passengers and crew had been removed – although in many cases the illegal migrants were simply put in lifeboats with provisions, a compass and a set of bearings and sent on their way back to the main Indonesian island of Java.
The Pacific Solution ended the flow of sea-borne illegal migrants into Australia almost overnight.