Britain’s reputation in the world has been damaged and it must accept that it is no longer a world power of the first order, the former prime minister said.
In a speech in London, Sir John Major said that the world’s great powers were the United States, China and the European Union, but Britain must be “cruelly honest” and accept “that we are no longer a great power”.
“We will never be that again,” said the former British leader. “We are a secondary great power, but in the next half century, however well we perform, our small size and population will probably be overtaken by the growth of other, much larger countries.
Major spoke when the British House of Lords rejected parts of the Internal Market Bill that would change the law to ensure that goods after brexite could move easily between the four nations of Britain – and potentially jeopardize a trade agreement between the US and Britain. By the government’s own admission, the Internal Market Bill violates international law, while the EU claims it violates the already agreed withdrawal agreement.
Critics say it also threatens the Good Friday Agreement by threatening protection against a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland – something that President-elect Joe Biden says he will not agree to.
The ex-PM Major warned that the bill – which would allow British lawmakers to override key elements of the brexite agreement with the EU – would have a “corrosive” effect on Britain’s reputation and that lawyers were “incredulous” by the plan presented by Boris Johnson.
On Monday night, like-minded people in the Lords removed a number of clauses that would give Britain the right to disregard the obligations of the withdrawal agreement with regard to Northern Ireland and defeated the government twice by a large margin.
Ministers have stated that they do not intend to use the powers, but they are needed as a “safety net” in case disputes over the implementation of the agreement cannot be resolved by other means. The government said it would try to reintroduce the measures when the bill is returned to the House of Commons, where they have already been approved.
The former leader of the Conservative Party claimed that the outcome of the brexite trade talks between Britain and the EU would be “a flimsy, insignificant or no agreement at all”, which he described as “a pathetic betrayal of what our voters should believe”.
“It now seems that on January 1 next year, Brexit could be even more brutal than everyone expected,” Major said. “Because of our bombastism, our bluster, our threats and our inflexibility, our trade will be less profitable, our treasury poorer, our jobs less and our future less prosperous.
Major – who led the UK from 1990 to 1997 – is a vocal critic of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU on 31 January. In his pre-recorded speech, he urged MPs to oppose the bill, which he said threatened essential freedoms and could put ministers above the law.
He described the bill as “a slippery slope that no democratic government should ever descend” and warned that a “deeply disturbing effect” of Brexit was the “danger of the United Kingdom being crushed by increased support for Scotland to leave the Union and Northern Ireland to unite with the South”.
The former prime minister’s speech was recorded before the confirmation of Biden’s election as US president on Saturday, but he warned that brexite made Britain “less relevant” to his oldest and strongest ally.
“Suddenly we are no longer an irreplaceable bridge between Europe and America,” Major said.
Prime Minister Johnson said he looked forward to working with President-elect Biden to uphold the “common values and interests” of the two nations. Regarding the post-Brexit trade talks with the US, Johnson said on Sunday that the “outlines” of an agreement were clear and that an agreement “had to be found”.