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Former PM urges 'less cheap rhetoric'

Major attacks ‘unreal’ vision of post-Brexit UK

Former Prime Minister Sir John Major has issued a stark warning that the British people are being offered an “unreal and over-optimistic” vision of the shape of the country following withdrawal from the European Union.

He said the costs of leaving would be “unpalatable” and in a barely-disguised swipe at the current incumbent in number 10 he called for “more charm and a lot less cheap rhetoric” from the UK government towards other EU states.

In a speech in London, Sir John claimed there was “little chance” that the advantages of being part of the EU single market could be replicated once the UK leaves.

“I have watched with growing concern as the British people have been led to expect a future that seems to be unreal and over-optimistic,” he said.

“Obstacles are brushed aside as of no consequence, whilst opportunities are inflated beyond any reasonable expectation of delivery.”

Sir John’s intervention comes a week after Tony Blair was also critical of the Brexit process.

Conservative former cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith said Sir John’s speech was was “looked backwards the whole time”.

He said: “It was almost like a re-fight of the referendum… strangely bitter really, and almost really the speech of someone who simply refuses to accept that the British people should have made a decision such as they did.”

Prime Minister Theresa May intends to press ahead with the process and next month will invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which begins two years of formal negotiations.

She has already confirmed the UK will not remain a member of the EU single market but will instead seek a new free trade deal with the remaining members.

She has warned the other 27 EU member states that Britain will fight back by cutting tax and regulation if it is offered a poor deal.

Sir John urged the government to take a more emollient approach. “In my own experience, the most successful results are obtained when talks are conducted with goodwill,” he said. “It is much easier to reach agreement with a friend than a quarrelsome neighbour.

“Behind the diplomatic civilities, the atmosphere is already sour. A little more charm, and a lot less cheap rhetoric, would do much to protect the UK’s interests.”


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