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1997 Onwards - Sir John Major’s Comments in Bristol on EU Referendum

Below are extracts of the speech made by Sir John Major in Bristol on 22 June 2016.


This is the last day we have left to try and persuade the British people to remain in the EU.

As Prime Minister, European rows upset many of my ambitions. I should wish to leave …. and yet I passionately believe that our jobs, homes, savings and family life will be safer and more secure if we remain in the EU.

Of course I understand there is concern over the current level of immigration – I stress current. I understand it – the PM understands it. But leaving the EU is no solution. To try and solve a short-term problem by doing so is to risk a far greater longer-term impact on our prosperity and place in the world.

If we were to leave, we would be seriously diminished as a country. I don’t want a Broken Britain without influence. And that is what we risk.

Throughout this campaign I – and others – have been accused of “scaremongering”. Of running a “Project Fear”. What a grotesque travesty of the truth.

So many respected bodies have pointed out the risks – and the Remain campaign has a duty to inform, correct myths and untruths – and to warn. That is Project Reality.

That is our responsibility. If we had failed in that – and if the British people vote out and all the things we have warned of come to pass – they would be fully entitled to say: “Why on earth did no-one ever tell us it would be like this?”

The British people will make their own choice tomorrow – but I do not want to sit on my rocking chair in a few years’ time wishing I had done more to lay the truth on the line …

Of course being a member of the EU can be frustrating. Sometimes deeply frustrating. No-one knows that better than me – and the PM – for both of us have sat around that top table for many years.

But the benefits of being inside the EU are real and by far outweigh any downsides: our international prestige, influence, security, wellbeing are all enhanced inside Europe.

As I stand here beside a still very youthful and energetic PM … I am very much aware that I represent the “grey” vote – actually, I think I’ve probably represented that for many years …..

But this is an important point: many people my own age – and older – remember the last referendum in 1975. Many say “We voted IN then – but we never voted for this ….. we never voted for what we have now ….. this is my chance to reverse that … to get out of Europe”.

I understand that sentiment, but would put another one to them: our country, Europe – and the wider world – is a very different place than it was in 1975. The world has moved on – and we have had to move with it. Who would have imagined that China would become so economically dominant? Who would have imagined that the communist Soviet Union would collapse, and that wall of division – of hate – between the East and the West would be torn down? Who would have foreseen the Global Market?

Our country is as free as any in the world. We take freedom for granted. Political freedom. Freedom of movement. And these are not one-way freedoms: our children and grandchildren think nothing of hopping onto Eurostar and heading off to Paris for a weekend break. Or travelling around Europe with a backpack earning money to pay their way …. why should such freedoms be denied to others?

Our nation is instinctively compassionate, open-hearted, generous-spirited, fair-minded and tolerant. We balk against hatred and extremism. We are fiercely patriotic – but not nationalistic.

And it is patriotic to work with others to ensure our security; to improve our economic wellbeing; to carry British influence and British values around Europe and the world. The optimistic patriot looks outwards and forwards – not inwards and backwards.

I am at an age when I often look back. But I owe it to my children and my grandchildren to look forward.

And it is because I want the very best for their future – and for the future of your own children and grandchildren – that I wish to remain in the EU.  

I want their futures to be safe. Secure. I want them to enjoy the freedoms that I have enjoyed. I want them to know prosperity not austerity. I want them to feel compassion for those in genuine need. I want them to reject hatred and violence – and to live in a country that does so too.

For these and many other reasons, we cannot – must not – pull up the drawbridge on our own country, and shrink back into ourselves. We need to be a strong voice, with a strong influence inside the EU and on the global stage.

If we leave, Europe would lose the country with the best performing economy; one of only two countries with a military capability and nuclear capacity; and the country with the longest, deepest and widest foreign policy reach.

And how ironic it would be if Britain – the nation that once, by her steadfastness saved Europe – were to end up as the architect of disarray across Europe.

If our nation does vote to leave – we must respect their decision.

But, if they vote to leave on the basis of half-truths, untruths and misunderstandings then – pretty soon – the gravediggers of our prosperity will have to account for what they have said and done.

But that will be of no consolation. For we will be out. Out for good. Diminished as an influence on the world. A truly Great Britain, shrunk down to a Little England.

This is not how our island story should go.

Tomorrow – millions of our fellow citizens can save our country from a mistake we will live to regret … for a very long time to come.