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Major tells Johnson: get rid of advisers ‘poisoning’ politics

Sir John Major: ‘advisers should go now’ (pic: Terry Murden)

Former Prime Minister Sir John Major tonight demanded the immediate removal of Downing Street’s ‘over-mighty’ advisers before they ‘poison’ politics beyond repair.

In a passionate defence of Conservative Party values, Sir John also called for the reinstatement of Tory MPs who had been sacked this week for voting against the government in a crucial Brexit debate.

Sir John told an audience of 600 businessmen at the CBI Scotland annual dinner in Glasgow that without these MPs the Tories would cease to be a broad-based party and emerge as a “mean-minded sect”.

Without naming special adviser Dominic Cummings, he denounced in uncompromising language the “political anarchist” who “does not give a fig” about the party.

“We have seen over-mighty advisers before.  It is a familiar script.  It always ends badly,” said Sir John, who succeeded Lady Thatcher in 1990 and led the party until his defeat to Tony Blair’s Labour party in 1997. 

“I offer the Prime Minister some friendly advice:  get rid of these advisers before they poison the political atmosphere beyond repair.  And do it quickly. 

“There is no need for them to be led out of Downing Street by armed police, but go they should.  And now.

“And, Prime Minister – at the same time – reinstate those Members of Parliament you have expelled because, without them – and others like them – we will cease to be a broad-based national Party, and be seen as a “mean-minded sect.”

His comments came as it emerged that Mr Johnson will see the Queen in Scotland tomorrow as the political crisis deepens. No10 confirmed Mr Johnson will stay at Balmoral, ahead of another vote by MPs on Monday on whether there should be a snap election. While it is normal for the Premier to see the Monarch at this time, his meeting has fuelled more speculation of an election on 15 October.

Sir John, whose displeasure with the current Cabinet was palpable, said: “Ministers who wish to leave Europe without a deal are playing fast and loose with the future of our United Kingdom” and added that he did not think any previous Prime Minister would have contemplated shutting down parliament.

Conservative MPs are being de-selected and thrown out of the Party – their careers ended for voting with their conscience

– Sir John Major

Sir John admitted that he removed the whip himself – “a rare, but valid, discipline, and one I used myself – but with a difference.  Usually, the Whip is restored before an Election, as I did in the 1990s after promises of good behaviour.

“But, this time, the punishment goes further.  Conservative MPs are being de-selected and thrown out of the Party – their careers ended for voting with their conscience, and for what they believe is the right policy for their constituents and their country.   

“These MPs are not wild, fringe figures.  Some are long-term loyalists, like my friends Ken Clarke, Nick Soames and Alastair Burt.  Others are younger MPs, prepared to sacrifice their political future for their country. 

“That takes character and courage.  Such men and women adorn Parliament, and the millions whose views they represent will not forgive or forget that they have been treated so brutally, whilst the Brexiteers – who voted regularly against Mrs May – now sit in the Cabinet, and reside at No 10.

“The legitimate concerns of those who have been banished from the Party;  their sturdy independence;  their repeated support for a Brexit deal;  their long and loyal public service to the Party;  seem to be worth nothing – unless they become cyphers, parroting the views of a Prime Minister influenced by a political anarchist, who cares not a fig for the future of the Party I have served all my life.”

Demanding that the Government change its tone, Sir John said ministers routinely insult half the electorate as “Remoaners”.

“Businessmen are warned that a negative attitude on Brexit will lead to their companies being frozen out of any future Government consultation.

“This is behaviour I never thought to see from any British Government, and it must stop. 

“The abuse comes from Cabinet ministers;  and the threats from No 10 Special Advisers.  I repeat:  it must stop.  

“Ahead lie many challenges.  If we are to meet them we need Government of the highest quality, not Government by bluster and threat in a climate of aggressive bullying. 

“Without decisions in the long-term British interest, we will fail future generations.  We need our four nations to come together as, perhaps, they have never done before.

“And yet, at this very moment, when unity is so crucial, our United Kingdom is being torn apart by the divisions of Brexit.

Trade deals

“My view of Brexit is no secret.  It has never changed.  For me, it is not a matter of ideology, it is a matter of practicalities. 

“I believe Brexit will be bad for our four countries:  bad for our future, bad for industry and commerce, and bad for millions of individuals – most notably, the young and those who have very little.” 

Regarding post-Brexit trade deals, he said: “As we leave the EU, the United States is turning away from Europe and towards the Pacific. 

“The EU gone:  America looking elsewhere.  Once that happens, our ability to advance our national interests will fall.  No “ifs.  No “buts”. 

“But there is a wider mischief.  By leaving the EU, we weaken it.

“Anti-Europeans may cheer, but a weaker Europe leaves the UK more at the mercy of decisions taken by a – I hope temporarily – dysfunctional United States, and a long-term autocratic China. 

“It also leaves the UK more vulnerable to Putin’s aggressive and assertive Russia.  None of that will be welcome, but it is the inevitable legacy of Brexit.” 

He took issue with the actions of a government which had no mandate from the electorate.

“Our new Cabinet has no majority and no mandate.  Governments change personnel – even their Prime Ministers – within the normal term of a Parliament, but not like this:  the composition of the present Cabinet is more than the usual changing of the guard. 

“It more resembles an entirely new Government after a General Election:  but this Government was not elected. 

“The lack of its own mandate is not the only impediment to its moral authority to change the whole direction of our country.  The new Cabinet is chalk and cheese in character to the one elected two years ago. 

“It is not a Cabinet of all available talents.  It is a faction of a faction, with no counter-balance of opinion to hold it back.  Upon Brexit, the Cabinet non–believers are mere window dressing.  They will not be listened to, and will always be out-voted.

“This is a Cabinet committed to deliver Brexit “do or die”, “come what may”, as the Prime Minister puts it.  They are pledged to this.  Their seat at the Cabinet table depends upon accepting whatever deal the inner core of “hard-line” Brexiteers decide upon. 

“The campaign that won the Referendum, with undeliverable promises and assertions that were then – and are still – false, are now in Downing Street, and in power.

“They have not, as promised, united the nation.  Far from it. 

“Instead, they have locked out half the electorate.  Whilst pleading the “will of the people”, they have redefined Brexit into the hardest and most uncompromising breach with Europe. 

Let us be absolutely clear on this point:  there is no electoral mandate – nor has there ever been – for a “no deal” Brexit

– Sir John Major

“This is not what was pledged when people voted to leave the EU.  Back then, a deal with Europe was promised.  As it was in the Conservative Manifesto for the last election.  And in Parliament ever since. 

“Let us be absolutely clear on this point:  there is no electoral mandate – nor has there ever been – for a “no deal” Brexit. 

So, when Cabinet Ministers tell us that is what our four nations voted for we, the electors, know that is emphatically not the truth. 

“In Scotland, in Northern Ireland, and in many parts of England – the majority view has been utterly ignored.  So have the young. 

“And so have the many minority communities who, quite rightly, were offended and repelled by the anti-immigrant sentiment that powered the “Leave” campaign. 

“Once the Brexit blindfold falls away there will be a heavy price to pay for these factional politics.

“The Prime Minister tells us he is a “One-Nation” Conservative – except, as we see, when it is convenient for him not to be so. 

Yet his strongest support has come from colleagues who could never be described as “One-Nation” Tories, and who would be aghast if they thought he would genuinely govern in that tradition.

Unsettling the union

“My fear is that Brexit will unsettle the unity of our UK.  The Union is not England writ large.  It belongs to Scotland too, and has served both our nations well.

“Today, the risk of separation is growing – but it is not inevitable.

“The core ambition of the Scottish Government is an independent Scotland – free of the Union with England.  In England, the Brexit campaign has promoted English nationalism. 

“The English Nationalists affect not to care about separation.  They care more about leaving Europe.  But the collapse of Unionism in England, and ambition for independence in Scotland, could lead to a calamitous outcome for us both.

“If she will bear the cost, I have never doubted that Scotland could govern herself. 

If Scotland secedes, it will weaken every part of the United Kingdom – including Scotland

– Sir John Major

“But I believe Scotland and England together are greater than the sum of their parts.  That is why I am a Unionist. 

“If Scotland secedes, it will weaken every part of the United Kingdom – including Scotland.   

“By weaken, I don’t simply mean losing the disbursements of the Barnett Formula.  I mean losing trade without barriers.  Trade without borders.  Trade without tariffs.  Today, trade across the Union is as simple as trade between Glasgow and Edinburgh.  This would not be so after separation. 

“The risk for Scottish prosperity is that the volume of trade with England is three and a half times larger than trade between Scotland and the EU.  But if Scotland abandons the Union, those tariff-free, barrier-free, border-free advantages could be lost. 

“But the Union is also about culture and identity.  It is about mutual benefits to our way of life, our international influence, our world profile, our defence and security, our research and learning, and all the aspects of our long and close relationship. 

“I fully understand why Scotland has reasons for grievance.

Even legitimate resentment is no basis for wise and thoughtful policy.  Nor does it overcome the problems of independence

– Sir John Major

“Five years ago, Scots voted to remain in the UK and, with it, the EU:  but they now see English votes taking them out of Europe. 

“But even legitimate resentment is no basis for wise and thoughtful policy.  Nor does it overcome the problems of independence. 

“The fiscal gap.  Higher taxes.  Lower spending.  The vulnerability of greater isolation.  They will affect every Scot:  but all of this is avoidable if good neighbourliness replaces the bitter hostilities of nationalism.

“England and Scotland have long united around a common patriotism.  Nationalism is not patriotism. 

“If we let nationalism divide us – Scottish nationalism or English nationalism – we will create a schism that cannot be bridged.  And, if that comes to pass, we will all be the losers – in this generation and far beyond.

Business fables

“I come back to business – and what lies ahead.  In the run-up to Brexit, there were glowing promises of milk and honey in a future “Global Britain”.  It is a brilliant and enticing slogan but yet another fable

“The deceit is breathtaking.  It turns truth on its head. Brexit will reduce our global reach, not enhance it. 

“On the day we leave the EU, we will lose trade deals with over 70 countries.  These were negotiated by the EU but only for its membersAll our present trade advantages will go with them.   

“It will take many years to replace them.  And – if/when we do so – will British business get the same advantages as now?  Of course not.  How can we? 

“The European market is the richest free trade market ever known.  Our British market is one-eighth its size – and one-eighth its attraction.  Any bilateral deal we strike will never match the deal the EU can obtain on our behalf.

“Since the referendum, the EU has new deals with Japan, South Korea, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.  All of these could have benefited the UK.  Post Brexit, none of them will. 

A former US Treasury Secretary scorns the UK’s trade ambitions as “delusional”

– Sir John Major

“Our Brexiteer Cabinet knows this, but won’t admit it:  instead they try and hide it.  Ignoring what they have thrown away, they promise deals with America, India and China.   

“That is the right ambition.  But it may not be achievable and – where it is – it will involve the UK making concessions.

“While Mr Trump makes extravagant promises of a “great deal” – and no doubt it would be for America – Larry Summers, a former US Treasury Secretary scorns the UK’s trade ambitions as “delusional”. 

“America is poised to demand deep access to our agriculture and the NHS.  The Prime Minister says that won’t happen – but there again he said he would “lie down in front of the bull-dozers at Heathrow Airport”, and we have yet to see that …….  

“In any event, any deal requires the approval of Congress, and Republican and Democrat leaders have said they will block it if our Brexit departure harms Ireland – as it undoubtedly will.

“So we should not rely on a deal any time soon. 

“And what deal is likely with India if they demand freely available visas?  Or with China if they demand acquiescence in their policy towards Hong Kong:  even the most supine Cabinet could not accept that.

“Far from “Global Britain” post Brexit, my fear is that we will become less global than we have been for generations. 

No surrender bill

“The Bill that was introduced on Tuesday, with the sole purpose of allowing our Sovereign Parliament to take back control – which, as I recall, was one of the central planks of the Vote Leave campaign – has now been, quite shamefully, re-branded by the Prime Minister as the “Surrender Bill”. 

“The irony of this is breathtaking.  Nor is it true.  What is true is that a hard Brexit will most surely “surrender” advantages the UK has worked so hard to gain – over very many years. 

“This week, Westminster has flexed its muscles, and done what every democratic Parliament has a duty to do:  call the Government to account.

“Over recent days, some Conservative Members have put their conscience above all else – at tremendous personal cost. 

“It is time for others – of all Parties – to dig deep into their souls and answer one question:  am I here to serve the interests of my Party, or the wellbeing of my country? 

“Upon their answer, all our futures depend.”

Comment: Mr Johnson needs to avoid more friendly fire

CBI chief: Brexit ‘folly’ risks plunging UK into economic crisis

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