Britain will pay a “severe price” if it votes to leave the European Union, Sir John Major has warned.
Exit could cost billions, would leave the UK isolated internationally and yet still required to implement EU regulations it had no part in framing, the former prime minister said.
Sir John – whose premiership was scarred by long-running battles with Tory Euro-sceptics – backed David Cameron’s strategy of renegotiating Britain’s membership before staging an in/out referendum as the best way of finally resolving the Europe issue.
The Government needs to be realistic about what it can achieve in the negotiations, he said in a speech at the annual dinner of the Institute of Directors in London.
Unlike other recent forays into the the political arena, such as his call for a windfall tax on the profits of energy companies, his latest intervention is helpful to the Conservative leadership which supports continued EU membership.
It would be a “truly dreadful outcome” for both the UK and the EU if the result of the referendum – promised by Mr Cameron if the Tories win the next general election in 2015 – is that Britain decides to leave, Sir John said.
“Of course, we would survive, but there would be a severe price to pay in economic well-being, in jobs and in international prestige,” Sir John said. “In a world of seven billion people, our island would be moving further apart from our closest and largest trading partners, at the very time when they, themselves, are drawing closer together. This makes no sense at all.”
Britain would have to negotiate its exit which could cost billions, and then could find itself still paying for access to the single market.