Former Prime Minister Sir John Major attacked the arguments of some of the leading Brexiteers as resorting to “divisive” stances of immigration as their other arguments are disproven. He also warned the leading proponents of Brexit within the Conservative Party, including Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, against “morphing into UKIP” in a speech at the Oxford Union in association with the Oxford University Conservative Association.
In his speech, the first big intervention that he has made in the run up to the EU referendum, Sir John attacked the primary arguments put forward by the Leave campaign attacking the economic, sovereignty and migration cases for Britain leaving the European Union.
It was for the issue of migration that Sir John saved his strongest words for the leaders of the Vote Leave campaign, he said: “as the various Leave arguments implode one by one some – not all – but some of the Brexit leaders morph into UKIP. And turn to their default position immigration. This is their trump card; I urge them to take care. This is dangerous territory that if handled carelessly can open up long term divisions in our country.”
As the various Leave arguments implode one by one… some of the Brexit leaders morph into UKIP
Sir John said that he was not wishing to silence debate on immigration and was not condemning the concerns that people have over the number of people arriving in the UK but that the debate needed to be conducted with ‘honesty, care and balance’ and said that the Leave campaign were crossing the boundaries of reasonable debate, he said: “they attribute motives to new arrivals that are speculative, and it seems to me, grossly offensive.”
He was also critical of the arguments put forward as to the cost of Britain’s European Union membership, questioning the figures put forward by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove that suggested the cost to the UK annually were £20billion and £18billion respectively. Sir John quoted figures from the Institute of fiscal studies suggesting that the UK’s contribution was in fact closer to £12billion of which £5.5billion was paid back in various forms, saying that those using the larger figures: “should stop peddling a clear-cut untruth.”
The speech was largely well-received by the audience inside the Oxford Union’s debating chamber although online some of the leading commentators and politicians supporting the UK’s exit from the EU were more critical. UKIP’s Suzanne Evans tweeted: “Three very good reasons not to trust a word #JohnMajor says: 1. ERM. 2. Matrix Churchill. 3. Edwina Currie.”
Meanwhile, Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan tweeted: “John Major says Leave campaigners are scare-mongering? My God he’s got a nerve.”
The speech was followed by a Q&A session conducted by the Oxford Union President, Robert Harris, OUCA President George Walker and the audience.
Sir John made some notable remarks on Donald Trump and his famous gaffe where he accidently let slip about the ‘bastards’ in his cabinet.
On Trump’s chances in the upcoming US Presidential election he said: “Donald Trump would be my second choice, and my first choice would be anyone else.”
When asked by Robert Harris about the ‘bastards’ in the cabinet, a reference to his comments about the Maastricht Rebels, Sir John said that his main excuse was tiredness but that his only other excuse was that ‘it was true.’
The speech by Sir John is just one of a number of events in Oxford relating to the upcoming referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, the referendum itself will be held on the 23rd June.