Major’s Major Mistakes

The man responsible for putting pen to paper over the infamous Maastricht Treaty in 1992 tried to tell the country that they were the ones who had been wrong to back Brexit. John Major, part of the crack team of European leaders that assented to the creation of the disastrous Euro and the triumvirate three pillar structure of the EU, bound the UK by the supremacy of unelected judges within the European Courts of Justice. John Major who, thanks to UK democracy was stopped short of dragging the UK into the single currency and the Social Chapter by the number of vociferous Tory rebels outnumbering his Conservative Party majority enough to see the downfall of his administration had he not buckled to their demands. Major had the nerve to label promises over Brexit ‘unreal’ and ‘over-optimistic’ and shrilly said Theresa May could do with ‘a little more charm and a lot less cheap rhetoric’. Of course, it’s not the first time Major has butted heads with a strong female Conservative leader.

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By Alexandra Phillips l March 20, 2017

Major’s Major
Former UK Prime Minister John Major – 1990-1997 (Picture credit/PA)

LONDON-Here’s a silly story from my childhood. When I was eight years old I was an odd little thing. I would unpeel the cardboard rolls inside toilet paper to seek out serial numbers and tear them out, keeping them in an old Ferrero Roche box. Other kids collected Football stickers and Troll dolls. I found collectibles within the most mundane of items.

My notice board was also covered in newspaper clippings. One was about the RAF’s first female fighter pilot. Like many little boys the same age, I was fascinated by fast things with big engines. Soon, baby faced Formula One racer Jacques Villeneuve would adorn my teenage bedroom walls as my pin-up.

But the rest of my notice board was covered in clippings of another word cut out of the newspaper: ‘MAASTRICHT’.

Perhaps it was just the double vowel and aggressive consonance that put a smirk on my face. I tell myself now, of course, as former right-hand-woman to Mr Brexit himself, Nigel Farage, that I was politically astute at the tender age of eight. Frankly, I can’t honestly remember.

What I can say with sincerity, however, is that over the last 25 years I have clearly learned a lot, and I now look forward to casting my mind back, in 25 years time, to 2016 and telling somebody’s grandchildren about the part I played in getting the UK out of the EU.

But that does not go for everybody.

Dour faced former Prime Minister John Major (you must remember him – he had a really long and pronounced philtrum) has resurfaced, in the wake of Mr Blair’s equally cringe- worthy resurrection, to pronounce Brexit to be a disaster.

Squirrelled away in front of an invited audience at London’s Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, the man responsible for putting pen-to-paper over the infamous Maastricht Treaty in 1992 tried to tell the country that they were the ones who had been wrong to back Brexit. John Major, part of the crack team of European leaders that assented to the creation of the disastrous Euro and the triumvirate three pillar structure of the EU, bound the UK by the supremacy of unelected judges within the European Courts of Justice. John Major who, thanks to UK democracy was stopped short of dragging the UK into the single currency and the Social Chapter by the number of vociferous Tory rebels outnumbering his Conservative Party majority enough to see the downfall of his administration had he not buckled to their demands.

Major had the nerve to label promises over Brexit ‘unreal’ and ‘over-optimistic’ and shrilly said Theresa May could do with ‘a little more charm and a lot less cheap rhetoric’. Of course, it’s not the first time Major has butted heads with a strong female Conservative leader. After Thatcher demanded a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty she referred to her own signing of the Single European Act after being promised no majority voting would take place somewhat a mistake, admitting that ‘our trust was not well founded’ but adding that she could not extend that excuse to Mr Major as he put pen-to-paper.

‘We got our fingers burnt. The most silly thing to do when you get your fingers burnt is to bring forward a bigger and worse Act which is the equivalent of putting your head in the fire.’

Questioned whether pushing for a referendum from the House of Lords was valid, Thatcher responded, ‘There is only one way to elevate a single issue and give it the importance which this one deserves and that is to have a specific referendum.’

Mr Major could not agree. ‘I am not in favour of referendums,’ he later told MPs.

Fast forward 25 years and here he is again, trying to pull the rug from under direct democracy and snidely undermining the very woman standing up for it.

All of this clamour is somewhat after the fact.

Something my old party, UKIP, are also learning much to their chagrin.

Two recent UK political by-elections, following the resignation of two Labour MPs, revealed quite how strong the grip of the Conservative Party now is over public confidence, and quite how much May’s resolute adherence to the referendum result is paying dividends for her party and is stripping UKIP of significance.

UKIP, or the United Kingdom Independence Party, was established 30 years ago with the express purpose of campaigning for the UK’s independence from the EU, pretty much as a direct result of John Major’s governance. One could argue had Major not been so lily-livered UKIP, and thus 25 years later the referendum to quit the EU, may never have happened.

But since Brexit, UKIP has lost their figurehead in Nigel Farage who has stepped down as leader following bitter infighting and the temptation of pastures new in association with the Trump administration in America. But equally as destructive is also the stripping of their very raison d’être after the referendum delivered the result the party had long campaigned for. As the Conservatives shifted right and re-appropriated the part of the political landscape abandoned under Major and Cameron, UKIP have been left ironically praying for May to stumble over Brexit, a rather perverse desire for the party that made it happen, and a dangerous and potentially self-fulfilling prophecy if they decide to yap at the ankles of May and force her hand during a delicate political process.

In Stoke-On-Trent, a seat where 71% of voters backed Brexit and where Labour under the Pseudo-Socialist Jeremy Corbyn could not be more out of touch with the working class populous, UKIP were touted at one point as odds-on-favourite to break into Parliament without relying on the incumbency of a defector, the previous path to success for the party in winning under first-past-the-post.

They abjectly failed. The result shocked everyone, but not me. If anything demonstrates how effective May has been in pushing for sovereignty and upholding the will of the people, the Stoke by-election result reinforced just that, despite Labour retaining the seat comfortably. The subtext told us that UKIP no longer had relevance. May had reclaimed the right wing, and was picking up even more support. In Copeland, the other constituency facing a by-election, the real headlines were made. The Conservatives effortlessly took the seat held by Labour since the late 1800s with a stellar performance that underscored the party’s growing universal appeal.

But it’s not just May’s conviction and integrity helping her to win unilateral support. Even the media are struggling to find dissenting voices other than the entitled has-beens of politics past. There has been no exodus of business. No fiscal crunch. Statistics on jobs, the economy and trade clearly show this. While John Major wishes to play down the potential for the UK’s national strength in the wake of independence, Chancellor Philip Hammond’s threat to launch a low tax and deregulated economy to directly compete and undercut Europe if they try to wage war over trade shows that Britain is not just willing to go it alone, but is confident that it is more than capable of making a success of it.

The UK loses nothing over Brexit. But Europe is losing its most vital asset.

Britain’s military spending is the highest in the EU at $60bn. France spends $40bn while Germany invests a paltry $39bn in relation to its massive population. Italy only drums up $20bn, while Spain commits $12bn and Poland and the Netherlands both $10bn. Greece and Belgium bring up the rear with a respective $5bn and $4bn each, while among the other 13 member states contributions total $17bn. With Britain ducking out of the EU just at the time that they sought to create a European Army and forge combined foreign policy is a big blow to their oversized ambitions.

Equally when it comes to trade clout, the UK has joint second largest EU number of votes on IMF board (with France) after Germany. The UK cutting loose rather means the EU’s international influence starts to wane, just as its beloved currency is still taping up its wounds.

Similarly, the EU’s economic ideology of homogenising a continent’s fiscal standards via a single currency and employment migration will also stumble as Britain withdraws. The remaining EU community will have to bestow more of that renowned German hospitality accorded to migrants and find ways of delivering wages and services to those moving to pastures new in search of a brighter future from poorer Member States. While the UK took over a quarter of a million migrants under the free movement of people, and Germany 416,000, Spain, suffering from its own youth unemployment crisis accepted 94,000, while France received a mere 87,000. The Polish population in the UK alone now numbers almost a million. With the challenge of also accommodating hundreds of thousands if not millions of migrants from desperately poor and war-torn countries arriving in Europe by land and sea, we should expect standards of living to fall and a jobs crisis already existent after the Euro crisis to become even more pronounced as the UK, with its significantly above average GDP, goes it alone.

The City of London as a major financial hub does not appear to be breaking up and relocating to the Cayman Islands or Frankfurt in the wake of Brexit, particularly with the dangling carrot of deregulation and low tax being wiggled by the Chancellor. With a combined €6 trillion covering the big four of HSBC, Barclays, RBS and Lloyds, the movement of capital through the UK’s financial and political capital has long been the envy of our continental neighbours, eyed greedily by Brussels as a pot of gold that can be taxed via a transactions fee to buffer the EU’s coffers. I guess they may have to rethink that one too.

Of course, the biggest slice of the EU pie they are set to lose comes from the UK’s net contributions to the Union. As the second largest annual paymaster, there will be a massive gap in terms of combined income and very hungry mouths at the table still to feed.

Perhaps this is why Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU’s new Commission President, has said the UK will face a hefty bill on leaving Brussels.

Perhaps John Major should have read the small print 25 years ago.


Alexandra Phillips is former Head of Media for the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), the political party in Britain that successfully campaigned to leave the EU and was aide to its charismatic leader Nigel Farage. She left UKIP after the referendum victory and joined the Conservative Party in order to ensure other big political ambitions are met in the U.K. She is a political advisor and communications consultant in London. Ms. Phillips is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis, of the conservative-online-journalism center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.