On 29 April 2017, BBC Radio 4 Today programme interviewed John Major. A staunch “one-nation” Tory, during the Scottish independence referendum of September 2014, Major championed the British Union, complete with shrill soundbites of Project Fear about the end of the world if Scotland became independent. Today, Major championed the European Union.
Major’s problem is credibility. As the Brexiteers point out, Major’s extensive experience as Prime Minister should have taught him valuable lessons about how to think European - he himself calls upon his experience at European negotiating tables as a note of authority - but it appears that he’s not learnt from them. Instead, Major points towards a nebulous concept of “sharing sovereignty” - repeating the strategicless position of Miliband D and Obama - claiming that UK already shares sovereignty without impediment. Thereafter, he invokes the usual Project Fear nonsense of weakness and uncertainty as a result of Brexit.
During the course of the interview, he by-passes particular Brexit points posed to him by John Humphreys. A fundamental issue is sovereignty - who has the final say - and Major failed to recognise that he own example (being the threats of fines against France for failing to trade with British beef, whose imports France blocked purportedly for bovine spongiform encephalopathy) failed to support his argument.
Major points to Cameron’s deal of 19Feb2016 relating to the permanent opt-out from European federalism, and explicitly derecognises the futility of Cameron’s deal in this respect. It sounds all very Chamberlainesque. When pressed as to why it would then be worth continuing with membership having got an opt-out from the whole point of the European Union, Major plays the trade card… without realising that trade is irrelevant to the Brexit issue.
To his credit, Major has done an excellent job of rendering bare the best British argument of continued membership of the European Union. It’s just that he failed to make the case.
And in all of his protestations that the UK is exempt from European federalism, Major failed to spell out - he didn’t even try - why the European Parliament would ratify Cameron’s deal of 19Feb2016.
Unconvincing and incredible.
The interview is available from 29Apr2016 for 29 days, at 2h10m.