Former Prime Minister Sir John Major has called for urgent action to protect the North East economy from a no-deal Brexit , saying that it marks “the first time in our long history that any British Government has embraced a policy of self-harm.”
In a passionate and wide-ranging speech in Newcastle , Sir John said the lack of fairness in British society had become “corrosive” and that regions like the North East would be hurt the most from the UK leaving the European Union.
Speaking just days after Nissan announced it would not be building its X-Trail model at Sunderland – a decision that has cost the region hundreds of jobs – Sir John said that the North East and other regions away from London had not had their fair share of funding from successive Governments.
And admitting his own failures to build a better society when in power, he urged people not to be swayed by “populist politicians who disparage the elite to gain favour and then capitalise on the resentment and distrust that has been fuelled by what they themselves have said.”
Sir John was speaking at an event hosted by the North East England Chamber of Commerce at St Nicholas’ Cathedral and won backing from many of the North East business leaders assembled there.
He said: “We don’t talk about fairness very often and we should but it simply isn’t fair that the prospects for a child born in one part of the country are less promising than those of a child of comparative ability and health in another part of the country. You cannot defend that.
“I think that needs to become a mainstream part of politics but the trouble is that this wretched debate, this miserable debate about Europe has closed down other things for the best part of the last 30 years.
“We’ve scrabbled and argued and cursed and fought over Europe for the last 30 years or so and it has pushed aside other issues that Parliament should have been concentrating on.”
Sir John said there were positives to be seen in the current record employment levels, but warned his Conservative Party colleagues that too many of the jobs created in recent years were either in self-employment, agency work or zero-hours contracts that did not offer security.
And he said that “it cannot be right that in the fifth or sixth biggest richest nation in the world, food banks have become essential in the lives of many people.”
He added: “We know we’re living in a democratic society but many Britons no longer believe they’re living in a fair society. In this I believe they are right.
“I entered Number 10 29 years ago with an ambition to build a country at ease with itself. I failed, and so have all my successors, but today the need to build such a society is greater than at any time in my lifetime.
“Over recent decades the global economy has lifted two billion people out of absolute poverty but a side issue of having done so is that it has widened the gap between the haves and the have-nots. The financial crash of 2007-8 has cast a long shadow.
“Some Britons will be worse off in 2020 than they were in 2007 and our relations with Europe have divided opinion more than any other policy in my political life.
“More than most I can empathise with the frustrations at the shortcomings of the European Union. I lived with them for years. But there are bigger issues at stake than frustrations and shortcomings, bigger issues that are being ignored or brushed aside or dismissed as so-called Project Fear when, as we are beginning to discover, they are all too real.
“I believe Brexit is regressive. The campaigners for leave promised better times yet Brexit will deliver worse times. That is not just my view.
“The Centre for European Reform estimates Brexit is already costing our public finances £320m each week – so much for £350 gained for the NHS. This excludes the £39bn divorce bill and the growing cost across Government and for business in managing our exit from the EU.
“Almost every sector of business across the UK has warned of trouble ahead and every independent study of Brexit, studies even by our own Government show that once we leave, the United Kingdom will be worse year after year after year. I can recall nothing to match it. It is the first time in our long history that any British Government has embraced a policy of self-harm despite their own advisors warning that it would make our nation weaker and our people poorer.”
Sir John said Nissan’s decision to cancel production of its new X-Trail model at its Sunderland was “not good News” and that other investment from Japan was also in danger because of Brexit.
He said: “The European Union and Japan have recently signed a free trade agreement that has no tariffs. Japan can now export into Europe tariff-free whearas if they come from Britain and we’re outside the single market and the customs union, as seems to be the present will, car exporters here will face a tariff.
“This was evident at the beginning of the referendum debate it is now becoming a reality. It is an outcome I passionately wish I was not going to see.
“So the case for action post-Brexit is compelling and urgent.
“In recent decades, through no fault of its own, the North East has lost shipyards, coalmines and glass manufacturing.
“Analysis from the Department of Exiting the European Union forecasts that under the most extreme no-deal Brexit scenario the North East economy could contract by up to 16%.
“No Government could or would stand by and watch that happen, I’m sure of that, but even the fear of it suggests that measures to protect the North East must be put into place, and as speedily as possible.”
Asked whether the North East had been neglected by Governments, he said that there was no “deliberate bias” but that Ministers would invest in areas where they could see the fastest return, which invariably meant London and the South East.
“I’m not accusing this or any previous Government of vindictively trying to short change this or any other part of the country but I don’t think some parts of the country have had their fair share of investment,” he said.
At the Chamber event, the organisation’s President John McCabe had also criticised the effect of Brexit on North East businesses.
Mr McCabe said: “Despite reassurances, no-deal remains a possibility and the overwhelming number of our members tell us that would be wholly unaccecptable to them. We’ll continue to press Government to rule out a no-deal outcome, extend negotiations and do far more to understand businesses’ legitimate and very urgent concerns about Brexit.”
Source : Chroniclelive