FORMER Prime Minister John Major has compared extreme Brexiteers to right-wing football hooligans in an extraordinary attack on those in his own party who want a hard Brexit.
Writing in The Mail On Sunday – which has consistently taken a different line on leaving the EU from its sister paper The Daily Mail – Major used the word “ultra” to describe hard line Brexiteers, “ultras” being the usually neo-fascist hooligan element that follow football clubs on the continent.
In an outburst clearly aimed at Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and their supporters, Major wrote: “The 48 per cent who voted Remain have as big a stake in our future as the 52 per cent who voted Leave: they, and especially parliamentarians, have a right – indeed a duty – to express their views. No-one can, or should, be silenced.
Loading article content
“That being so, it is time for the minority of ‘ultra Brexiteers’ – those who believe in a complete break from Europe – to stop shouting down anyone with an opposing view.
“It is not only unattractive but profoundly undemocratic and totally un-British. What is most striking is that, amid all the noise they make, they comprehensively fail to address any argument put to them.
“Instead, they launch vitriolic and personal attacks on the governor of the Bank of England, judges, civil servants, foreign leaders, politicians and other public figures.
“In doing so, they demean both themselves and their cause. These ‘ultras’ are terrified that their triumph in taking us out of Europe will be snatched away.
“But if that is their fear, why do they not defend their position with logic and passion, with thoughtful, cogent argument, instead of the low-grade personal abuse that has been their standard response so far?
“If the rancour merely came from rabble elements, or extreme minorities, it could be ignored. But when it comes from politicians, including those from within the governing party, it is time to confront it.
“Other parliamentary Brexiteers, from all parties, are more reasoned, more civil, and more democratic. They should disown their rancorous colleagues.”
Referring to the trade deal with the EU that the UK Government is seeking, Major added: “The outcome we seek may be unattainable, the terms unacceptable.
“In such circumstances, the ‘ultras’ have a solution: it is that we should break wholly away from the EU, and trade with our European neighbours under what are known as WTO [World Trade Organisation] rules.
“It all sounds so simple – but emphatically is not. And, compared to our present position, it is disadvantageous in every way.
“It would mean that 90 per cent of our exports to the EU would become more expensive to buy and, therefore, less competitive. They would face tariffs that would add about £6 billion to their costs – and the UK would lose sales.”
Mike Russell, the Scottish Government’s Brexit minister, said: “John Major has personal experience of the loony right of the Tory party endeavouring to wreck everything just to get out of Europe. The difference is that in his day they were the extreme fringe – now they are the mainstream with seats in Cabinet and they have Theresa May in their grip. “The prospects for a successful negotiation with Europe are poor and getting poorer by the day but they also hate devolution and the Scottish Parliament. It is vital that Scotland sees the danger and is given the choice of removing them from authority over us for ever.”