Magazine article The Spectator

Leading Article: Carry on, Major

Magazine article The Spectator

Leading Article: Carry on, Major

Article excerpt

As Prime Minister, John Major was intolerant of opposition from within the Conservative party over the EU -- memorably calling Maastrict rebels 'bastards'. It was unwise, and the bad blood it created within his party has been swirling around ever since. Now that the tables have turned and Sir John now finds himself the rebellious outsider on Europe, it is tempting for those on the Conservative party's Eurosceptic wing, who for so long were denounced as freaks, fruitcakes and swivel-eyed loons, to take the same approach. Their instinct is to denounce Sir John, Michael Heseltine, Ken Clarke and others as dinosaurs seeking to deny the will of the British people. A more responsible approach would be to listen to the Europhiles with grace -- and respectfully disagree.

Sir John, in any case, does not deserve to be lumped together with Heseltine and Clarke. In contrast to the other two -- who were both stalwarts of his cabinet -- he conceded in his speech this week that the result of the referendum must be respected rather than overturned. Unlike Tony Blair, he is not trying to establish any kind of rearguard movement to frustrate the government's strategy. He is simply asserting that his views have not changed since the referendum and its result has not ended his concerns.

Some of Brexit's most prominent figures are in danger of showing a disregard bordering on contempt for the 48 per cent who believed our future was more secure within the European Union.

It is true that plenty of contempt is being shown in the other direction too, by Remainers who, for example, accuse elderly Leave voters of 'stealing their future' or who question the right to vote of those whom they consider stupid. But there is an obvious difference: the Brexiteers won. They do not need to keep on fighting the referendum. The Commons has voted in favour of triggering Article 50, and a majority of voters -- including many who voted Remain -- agree that the government is right to get on with it. Brexit is going to happen. It serves no purpose to abuse the likes of Clarke and Heseltine for following their consciences.

What the government, and others who back Brexit, must do now is listen to critics, analyse their concerns, address them, and attempt to reassure where fears are misplaced. Sir John raises some decent points: might a dispute over the size of our final financial settlement with the EU stand in the way of a trade deal by 2019? Might a drive to establish new trading links and attract foreign investment threaten the welfare state in its current form? …

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