John Major is to warn that Britain is in danger of stumbling out of the EU in a divorce that would be “final”.
Speaking to Angela Merkel’s CDU party, the former prime minister will say in Berlin on Thursday that Britain and the EU are heading towards a “breach” unless concerns over immigration are addressed.
Major, who will speak to the CDU’s main thinktank, the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, will say that Europe could find itself “sleepwalking into antagonisms it cannot repair”, which could lead to an irrevocable split. This, he will say, would neither be in the interests of the UK nor the EU.
Major’s strongly pro-European speech, which is likely to be his last major intervention on Europe before the general election, is designed to help David Cameron and win allies for Britain in the EU’s largest member state. He will say that the time has come to “tone down the oratory and turn up the diplomacy”.
But the former prime minister will suggest to his centre-right audience that it would be wise for Germany and other EU countries to consider Cameron’s demand for restrictions on the free movement to be included in his EU reform plan. Major will say that many other EU countries have concerns about immigration.
Merkel recently ruled out changes to free movement on the grounds that it is one of four freedoms – the movement of people, services, goods and capital – enshrined in the EEC’s founding Treaty of Rome in 1957. Major is expected to point out that some EU leaders attach great importance to the free movement of people while there are still restrictions on the provision of services across the EU.
Major, who will say that Britain is better off inside the EU, wants the tone of his speech to be gentle and conciliatory, not hectoring. He hopes that it will open people to the wider picture of the implications of a British exit from the EU and the reforms that could be achieved by remaining a member.
Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, said: “John Major has today issued a stark warning to David Cameron to stop gambling with Britain’s place in Europe and risk undermining Britain’s national interest in the process. David Cameron has spent the last four years burning bridges in Europe instead of building alliances with other EU leaders.
“Now John Major has called on him to change course by focusing more on diplomacy and less on oratory. By putting his own party’s interest ahead of our national interest, David Cameron is not only isolated in Europe but also risks sleepwalking us out of Europe altogether.”
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