FORMER PRIME Minister Sir John Major last night warned that the UK was poised to leave the European Union unless there was genuine reform.
In a frank assessment of the UK’s relationship with Brussels, Sir John put the chance of a British exit from the European Union at “just under 50 per cent” – but that probability would rise if David Cameron was unable to secure change before the referendum he has promised by the end of 2017 if he remains in Downing Street.
Sir John said frustration with the EU was no longer a “fringe opinion” in the UK and Brussels was often seen as showing a “lofty disdain” for British concerns.
But in a comment seemingly aimed at Mr Cameron over his tactics in Europe, Sir John said: “Wise negotiators will tone down the oratory and turn up the diplomacy.”
In a speech in Berlin, Sir John, who faced bitter battles over Europe during his time in office, said he wanted to “sound the alarm” about the prospect of a British exit from the EU.
“What we must all realise is that a divorce may be final. Absolute. A reconciliation would be unlikely,” he said.
Sir John pushed for a series of reforms and argued that freedom of movement – the measure which has allowed migrants from other EU countries to settle in the UK – had to be part of the negotiation.
He said absorbing the number of migrants currently projected to come to “our small island” is not “physically or politically possible without huge public disquiet”.
He told members of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s party that opposition to the EU in England had reached a “critical mass” and “for the first time there is a serious possibility that our electorate could vote to leave the EU”.
“I put the chance of exit at just under 50 per cent. But if the negotiations go badly, that percentage will rise. Conversely, with genuine reform, it will fall.
“I ask our European partners to realise we are close to a breach that is in no one’s interest. Britain’s frustration is no game.
“It is not a political ploy to gain advantages and concessions from our partners.”