Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard has given his support to the UK leaving the European Union (EU) in June’s referendum, saying that Britain has lost its sovereignty.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Howard said: “The European project is fundamentally flawed. I think its best days are probably behind it and there will be increasing tensions [over migration]. Britain can’t control its borders — it is ridiculous to say it can.”
“If I were British, which I’m not, I’d vote to leave,” he added. “You have lost your sovereignty.”
Mr Howard said that although he was not campaigning in the referendum, he does believe leaving the bloc is in Britain’s best interests.
“In 1975 the idea of Europe being a counterweight to the US had a lot more force than it does now,” he said. “The future of the world is now so much more in the Asia-Pacific region and in a way the British, because of their long history with the rest of the world, could perhaps take better advantage of that acting on their own.”
He added that while Britain stays in the EU it is not free to agree its own trade deals.
“We [Australia] have just completed three trade agreements [China, South Korea and Japan] and Britain can’t do that… it has to go through Brussels.”
Around 100,000 Australian citizens live in the UK, but thanks to EU free movement rules they have a much harder time settling permanently in Britain than EU citizens, despite cultural, linguistic and historical ties.
“One of the consequences of being in the EU is that if the British are going to keep the migration numbers down they have to squeeze the non-EU migration,” Mr Howard said. “They can’t stop EU migration, and that affects Australians.”
John Howard was Australian Prime Minister from 1996 to 2007, leading his conservative government to four general election victories. He also oversaw a monarchist victory in a 1999 referendum when Australians voted to maintain Queen Elizabeth as head of state and rejected becoming a republic.