John Major Briefings


John Major

Former Conservative prime minister John Major's speech in London on Brexit negotiations, from Wednesday 28 February.


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on Friday, he will find out that

what we need is a hard-headed

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leader, not a fairy godmother. Thank

you very much.

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And thank you very much and good

afternoon everyone.

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I would like to express my thanks to

the Creative Industries Federation,

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Somerset House Trust,

and Tech London Advocates

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for the opportunity

to speak here today.

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I must confess when I excepted, I

hadn't imagined it was good to be

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quite such a busy week for Brexit,

but perhaps that is appropriate.

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Brexit matters to our

creative industries.

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They express our culture and values

? but give so much more.

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Nearly 10% of our national workforce

is in creative industries.

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They are often the young ?

and overwhelmingly in small

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units up and down the UK.

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Job growth outpaces every other part

of industry ? especially

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in the Midlands and Yorkshire.

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Their exports total over £35 billion

a year, but their added value

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to our country ? both economically

and socially ? is incalculable.

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And far beyond cash.

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Our decision to leave the EU faces

the creative industries

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with a variety of threats that

could harm their future,

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both in financial and human terms.

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So I am delighted to be their guest

here this afternoon

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to talk of Brexit.

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For years, the European

debate has been dominated

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by the fringes of opinion ?

by strong supporters of Europe

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or convinced opponents.

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But as we approach Brexit,

the voice of middle opinion

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mustn t be overlooked.

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I am neither a Europhile

nor a Eurosceptic.

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As Prime Minister, I said no

to federal integration,

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no to the Euro Currency,

and no to Schengen ?

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which introduced free movement

of people within the European Union

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but without proper control

of external borders.

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But I am a realist.

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I believe that to risk

losing our trade advantages

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with the colossal market

on our doorstep is to

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inflict economic self-harm

on the British people.

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Of course, the will of the people

can t be ignored, but Parliament has

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a duty also to consider

the wellbeing of the people.

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No-one voted for higher prices

and poorer public services,

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but that is what they may get.

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The emerging evidence suggests

Brexit will hurt most

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those who have least.

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Neither Parliament nor

Government wish to see that.

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The will of the people -

so often summoned up

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when sound argument

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is absent ? was supported by only

37% of the electorate.

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63% voted either in favour of

membership ? or did not vote at all.

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There was a majority for Brexit,

but there was no overwhelming

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mandate to ignore the reservations

of 16 million voters,

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who believe it will be a harmful

change of direction for our country.

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Brexit has been the most divisive

issue of my lifetime.

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It has divided not only

the four nations of our UK,

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but regions within them.

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It has divided political parties;

political colleagues; families;

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friends ? and the young

from the old.

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We have to heal those divisions.

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They have been made worse

by the character of the Brexit

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debate, with its intolerance,

its bullying, and its name-calling.

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I welcome rigorous debate ?

but there must be respect

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for differing views that

are honestly held.

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In this debate there are no

remoaners, no mutineers,

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no enemies of the people ? just

voices setting out what they believe

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is right for our country.

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In recent weeks, the idea has gained

ground that Brexit won't be too bad,

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that we will all get through it,

that we're doing better than

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expected ? and all will be well.

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Of course we will get through it.

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Life as we know it

won't come to an end.

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We are too resourceful

and talented a nation for that.

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But our nation is owed a frank

assessment of what leaving Europe

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may mean ? for now and the future.

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I fear we will be weaker

and less prosperous ?

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as a country and as individuals.

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And ? although it grieves me

to admit it ? our divorce

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from Europe will diminish

our international stature.

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Indeed, it already has.

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For decades, we British have

super-charged our influence around

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the world by our closeness to the US

- which policy divisions

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are broadening - and our

membership of the EU.

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which we are abandoning.

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As a result, we are already

becoming a lesser actor.

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No-one ? Leaver or Remainer

? can welcome that.

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We are all urged to be patriotic

and get behind Brexit.

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But it is precisely because I am

patriotic that I oppose it.

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I want my country to be

influential, not isolated.

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Committed, not cut-off,

a leading participant,

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not a bystander.

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I want us to be richer, not poorer.

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Yet every serious international

body, including the IMF, the OECD,

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the Institute for Fiscal Studies,

the National Institute of Economic

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and Social Research ?

as well as Nobel prize-winners ?

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forecast we will be

poorer outside the EU.

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Such forecasts could be wrong,

but to dismiss them out

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of hand is reckless.

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Our own Government has

assessed our post-Brexit position

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upon three separate criteria -

that we stay in the Single Market,

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or reach a trade deal

with Europe, or fail to do so.

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Each option shows us to be worse

off - and disastrously

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so with no trade deal at all.

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And the poorest regions

will be hurt the most.

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If, as negotiations proceed,

this analysis appears to be correct,

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that cannot be brushed aside.

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I know of no precedent for any

Government enacting a policy that

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will make both our country

and our people poorer.

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Once that is apparent,

the Government must change course.

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Meanwhile, we are yet again

told all will be well.

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Certainly, the recent fall

in the value of sterling has

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temporarily boosted our exports.

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The strength of the world economy

may even increase our

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forecast growth this year.

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But this sweet spot is artificial.

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It won't last.

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Prosperity isn't built

on devaluation of the currency.

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More exports on the back of other

countries' economic growth

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is not a secure position.

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The UK has been at the very

top of European growth.

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We are now the laggard

at the bottom.

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We have become the slowest

of the world's big economies,

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even before we surrender

the familiar advantages

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of the Single Market.

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Our negotiations, so far,

have not always been sure-footed.

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Some agreements have been reached

but, in many areas, only

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because the UK has given ground.

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Our determination to negotiate

the divorce bill and a new trade

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deal at the same time

was going to be "the fight

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of the summer" - but instead became

an immediate British retreat.

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There was to be a "points

based" immigration system.

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There isn't, and there won't be.

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We were to become the

"Singapore of the North".

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No more: we have retreated

from a policy of lower

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taxes and de-regulation.

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No transition period

was going to be needed.

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But we have now asked for one -

during which we will accept new EU

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rules, ECJ jurisdiction,

and free movement of people.

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I don't say this to be critical.

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I do so to illustrate that

unrealistic aspirations are usually

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followed by retreat.

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That is a lesson for

the negotiations to come.

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They will be the most complex

and most difficult any

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Government has faced.

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Our aims have to be realistic.

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I am not sure they yet are.

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We simply cannot move forward

with leaving the EU,

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the Single Market, the Customs Union

and the ECJ, whilst at the same time

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expecting a la carte,

beneficial-to-Britain,

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bespoke entrance to

the European market.

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It is simply not credible.

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A willingness to

compromise is essential.

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If either side - the UK or the EU -

is too inflexible, too unbending,

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too wedded to what they won't do -

then the negotiations will fail.

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The very essence of negotiation

involves both "give" and "take".

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But there are always "red lines"

that neither side wishes to cross.

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In successful negotiations

those "red lines" are

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traded for concessions.

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If our "red lines" are held to be

inviolable, the likelihood of no

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deal - or a poor deal - increases.

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Every time we close off

options prematurely,

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this encourages the EU to do

the same - and that is not

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in our British interest.

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A good Brexit - for Britain -

will protect our trade

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advantages, and enable us

to continue to sell our goods

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and services without disruption,

import and export food

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without barriers and extra cost,

staff our hospitals,

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universities and businesses

with the skills we need -

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where we most need them,

be part of the cutting edge

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of European research,

in which British brains

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and skills lead the way,

and continue with the

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over 40 FTAs we have

with countries only as a result

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of our membership of the EU.

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A bad Brexit - for Britain -

will surrender these,

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and other, advantages.

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For the moment, our self-imposed

"red lines" have boxed

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the Government into a corner.

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They are so tilted to ultra Brexit

opinion, even the Cabinet cannot

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agree them - and a majority in both

Houses of Parliament oppose them.

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If maintained in full,

it will be impossible to reach

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a favourable trade outcome.

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Alarmed at the negotiations so far,

the financial sector, businesses,

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and our academic institutions,

are pleading for common-sense policy

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to serve the national

interest and now -

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fearful they may not get

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it - are making their own

preparations for the future.

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Japanese car-makers warn

they could close operations

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in Britain unless we maintain free

access to the EU.

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That would be heart-breaking

for many people in Sunderland

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or Swindon or South Wales.

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This isn't "Project Fear" revisited,

it is "Project Know Your History".

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Any doubters should consult

the former employees of factories,

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now closed, in Bridgend,

Port Talbot and Newport,

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where jobs were lost

and families suffered.

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In 1991, employment by Japanese

firms in Wales was about 17,000

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people - today, it is 2,000.

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If free access to Europe is lost -

that scale of impact, across the UK,

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could lose 125,000 Japanese jobs.

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Over many years, the Conservative

Party has understood

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the concerns of business.

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Not over Brexit, it seems.

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Across the United Kingdom -

businesses are expressing their wish

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to stay in the Single Market

and Customs Union.

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But "No", say the

Government's "red lines".

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Businesses wish to have the freedom

to employ foreign skills.

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"No", say the Government's

"red lines".

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Business and academia wish

to welcome foreign students

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to our universities and -

as they rise to influence

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in their own countries -

we then have willing

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partners in politics

and business for decades to come.

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"No", say the Government's

"red lines".

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This is not only grand folly.

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It's also bad politics.

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The national interest must always be

above the Party interest,

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but my Party should beware.

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It is only fear of Mr Corbyn

and Mr McDonnell that prevents

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a haemorrhage of business support.

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Without the comprehensive trade deal

the Prime Minister seeks,

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we risk economic divorce

from the EU, and the chill embrace

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of a "hard" Brexit with WTO rules.

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Leading Brexit supporters believe

there is nothing to fear

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from losing our special access

to the Single Market.

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But to me that is profoundly wrong.

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Swapping the Single

Market for WTO rules

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would mean our exports facing

the EU external tariff,

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as well as hidden nontariff barriers

that could be adjusted

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to our disadvantage at any time.

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One Minister has speculated

we might face tariffs of 3%.

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If only.

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Not so.

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It is more likely that we will face

tariffs on cars 10%,

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food 14%, drinks 20%,

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and dairy products 36%.

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Even if a successful negotiation

were to halve these tariffs,

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our exports would still be much more

expensive to sell - and this

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would apply far beyond agriculture

and the motor industry.

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And if, in retaliation, the UK

were to impose tariffs on imports,

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this would result in higher prices

for the British consumer.

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If we and the EU agreed to impose

nil tariffs - as some have

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speculated - WTO rules mean

we would both have to offer nil

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tariffs to all countries.

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That simply isn't going to happen.

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This is all very complex.

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But it is crucial.

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And none of it has yet been properly

explained to the British people.

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There have been attempts to reassure

business by claiming that other

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nations trade with the EU

on purely WTO terms.

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That statement is simply wrong.

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China, the US and Japan

all have side agreements

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with Europe on standards,

customs co-operation,

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mutual recognition and investment.

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These economic giants did

so to protect their own trade

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even though none of them is exposed

as we are ? still half our entire

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exports go to Europe.

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Ultra Brexit opinion is impatient

to be free of European

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relationships, to become -

in their words - a "global player",

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"sovereign", "in control".

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I believe they are deceiving

themselves and, as a result,

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they are misleading

the British people.

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Before the modern world took

shape - their ambition

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would have been credible.

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But the world has changed,

the global market has taken root,

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and - if we are to care

for the people of our nation -

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philosophical fantasies must give

way to national self-interest.

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We cannot prepare for tomorrow

by living in the world of yesterday.

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I don't doubt the convictions

of those who long for the seductive

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ambition of British exceptionalism.

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But these sentiments

are out-of-date and,

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in today's world, simply wrong.

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It is not my purpose

to stir controversy,

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but the truth must be spoken.

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The ultra Brexiteers have been

mistaken - wrong - in nearly

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all they have said or promised

to the British people.

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The promises of more hospitals,

more schools, lower taxes,

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more money for transport

were electioneering fantasy.

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The £350 million a week for the NHS

was a ridiculous phantom -

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the reality is if our economy

weakens - as is forecast -

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there will not only be

less money for the NHS,

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but for all our public services.

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We were told that nobody

was threatening our place

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in the Single Market.

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That tune has changed.

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We were told that a trade deal

with the EU would be easy to get.

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We could do it in an afternoon.

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Wrong again - it was

never going to be easy,

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and we are still not

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sure what outcome will be achieved.

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We were told "Europe can whistle

for their money" and we would not

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pay a penny in exit costs.

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Wrong again.

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Europe didn't even have

to purse her lips before

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we agreed to pay £40 billion

to meet legitimate liabilities.

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I could go on.

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But I think the point is made.

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But suffice to say that every one

of the Brexit promises is - to quote

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Henry Fielding - "a very wholesome

and comfortable doctrine

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to whichthere but one objection:

namely, that it is not true.".

0:21:510:21:56

People should pause and reflect.

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If the Brexit leaders

were wrong in what they said

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so enthusiastically before -

0:22:040:22:05

are they not likely to be wrong

in what they say now?

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The Prime Minister is seeking

a "frictionless" border

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between Northern Ireland

and the Republic.

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She is absolutely right to do so.

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This is a promise that must be

honoured, and I wish her well.

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But, so far, this has not

materialised - nor, I fear,

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will it - unless we stay in "a"

or "the" Customs Union.

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Those of us who warned

of the risks Brexit would bring

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to the still fragile Peace Process

were told at the time that we

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didn't understand Irish politics.

0:22:450:22:51

But it seems we understood it

better than our critics.

0:22:510:23:02

We need a policy urgently to protect

the Good Friday Agreement -

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and we need one urgently.

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And it is our British

responsibility to find one -

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not the European Union.

0:23:120:23:20

We need to provide a solution and

not simply oppose what other people

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suggest.

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Although the referendum was advisory

only, the result gave

0:23:250:23:28

the Government the obligation

to negotiate a Brexit.

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But not any Brexit, not

at all costs, and certainly

0:23:360:23:38

not on any terms.

0:23:380:23:44

The true remit can only be to agree

a Brexit that honours the promises

0:23:440:23:49

made in the referendum.

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But, so far, the promises

have not been met and,

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probably, cannot be met.

0:23:580:24:05

Many electors now know

they were misled - many more

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are beginning to realise it.

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So, the electorate has every right

to reconsider their decision.

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Meanwhile, our options

become ever narrower.

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We have ruled out full membership.

0:24:180:24:20

Ruled out the Single Market

and Customs Union.

0:24:200:24:24

Ruled out joining the

European Economic Area.

0:24:240:24:26

Dismissed talk of joining EFTA.

0:24:270:24:29

A Norway deal won't do.

0:24:290:24:31

Nor will a Swiss deal.

0:24:310:24:32

Nor a Ukraine deal, a Turkey deal,

or a South Korea deal.

0:24:320:24:38

No to them all, say

the Government s red lines.

0:24:380:24:42

So, little is left,

except for cherry picking,

0:24:420:24:46

which the EU rejects.

0:24:460:24:49

Or a comprehensive deal ?

which will be very hard,

0:24:490:24:52

if not impossible, to get.

0:24:520:24:54

So compromise it must be

? or no deal at all.

0:24:540:25:00

It is now widely accepted

that no deal would be

0:25:000:25:04

the worst possible outcome.

0:25:040:25:07

The compromise must, therefore,

focus around our accepting

0:25:070:25:17

Single Market rules, as Norway does,

and paying for access.

0:25:180:25:20

Or an enhanced "Canada deal" -and it

would need to be enhanced

0:25:200:25:23

a very great deal to be attractive.

0:25:230:25:25

The Canada deal largely concerns

goods - whereas the bulk of UK

0:25:250:25:28

exports are services.

0:25:280:25:30

But what we achieve to protect our

interests may depend

0:25:300:25:38

on what we concede -

it is, as I say, give and take.

0:25:380:25:45

If our red lines dissolve,

our options enlarge.

0:25:450:25:50

Our minimum objective must be that

"deep, special and bespoke" trade

0:25:500:25:56

deal the Prime Minister

has talked about.

0:25:560:26:01

So, some unpalatable

decisions lie ahead -

0:26:010:26:05

with the cast-iron certainty

that the extreme and unbending

0:26:050:26:08

Brexit lobby will cry

betrayal at any compromise.

0:26:080:26:14

But it is Parliament,

not a small minority,

0:26:140:26:17

that must decide our policy.

0:26:170:26:21

I spoke earlier of the

divisiveness of Brexit

0:26:210:26:24

across our United Kingdom.

0:26:240:26:34

But in due time, the debate

will end, and when it does

0:26:410:26:44

we need the highest possible level

of public acceptance

0:26:440:26:46

for the outcome.

0:26:460:26:47

It is in no-one's interest

for the bitterness and

0:26:470:26:50

division to linger on.

0:26:500:26:51

I see only one way to achieve this.

0:26:510:26:55

It is already agreed that Parliament

must pass legislation

0:26:550:27:00

giving effect to the deal.

0:27:000:27:03

A meaningful vote has been promised.

0:27:030:27:07

This must be a decisive vote,

in which Parliament can accept

0:27:070:27:13

or reject the final outcome -

or send the negotiators back to seek

0:27:130:27:19

improvements, or order a referendum.

0:27:190:27:24

That is what Parliamentary

sovereignty means.

0:27:240:27:33

But to minimise divisions

in our country - and between

0:27:330:27:37

and within the political parties -

I believe the Government should take

0:27:370:27:40

a brave and bold decision.

0:27:400:27:43

They should invite Parliament

to accept or reject the final

0:27:430:27:47

outcome on a free vote.

0:27:470:27:51

I know the instinct of every

Government is to oppose free

0:27:510:27:56

votes, but the Government should

weigh the advantages

0:27:560:27:59

of having one very carefully.

0:27:590:28:03

It may be in their

interest to do so.

0:28:030:28:07

There are some very practical

reasons in favour of it.

0:28:070:28:12

Brexit is a unique decision.

0:28:120:28:15

It will affect the lives

of the British people

0:28:150:28:18

for generations to come.

0:28:180:28:21

If it flops, there will be

the most terrible backlash.

0:28:210:28:27

If it is whipped through Parliament,

when the public are so divided,

0:28:270:28:34

voters will know who to blame

if they end up poorer and weaker.

0:28:340:28:39

So, both democracy and prudence

suggest a free vote.

0:28:390:28:44

The deep divisions in our nation

are more likely to be healed

0:28:440:28:49

by a Brexit freely approved

by Parliament, than a Brexit forced

0:28:490:28:55

through Parliament at the behest

of a minority of convinced

0:28:550:28:59

opponents of Europe.

0:28:590:29:05

A free vote would better reflect

the reality that, for every 17

0:29:050:29:08

voters who opted for Brexit,

16 opted to remain in the EU.

0:29:080:29:14

But, regardless of whether a free

vote is offered, Parliamentarians

0:29:140:29:17

must decide the issue on the basis

of their own conscience.

0:29:170:29:24

Upon whether, in mature judgment,

they really do believe

0:29:240:29:29

that the outcome of the negotiations

is in the best interests

0:29:290:29:32

of the people they serve.

0:29:320:29:38

By 2021, after the likely

two-year transition,

0:29:380:29:43

it will be five years

since the 2016 referendum.

0:29:430:29:49

The electorate will have changed.

0:29:490:29:51

Some voters will have left us.

0:29:510:29:53

Many new voters will

be enfranchised.

0:29:530:29:56

Others may have changed their mind.

0:29:560:30:02

No-one can truly know what the will

of the people may then be.

0:30:020:30:05

So, let Parliament decide.

0:30:050:30:09

Or put the issue back to the people.

0:30:090:30:12

And what is true for the House

of Commons must apply

0:30:120:30:15

to the House of Lords.

0:30:150:30:18

Peers must ignore any noises off,

and be guided by their intellect

0:30:180:30:22

and their conscience.

0:30:220:30:25

I have been a Conservative

all my life.

0:30:250:30:30

I don't enjoy being out of step

with many in my Party and take no

0:30:300:30:36

pleasure in speaking out

as I am today.

0:30:360:30:43

But it's as necessary to speak truth

to the people, as to power.

0:30:430:30:49

Leaving Europe is an issue

so far-reaching, so permanent,

0:30:490:30:57

so over-arching that it

will have an impact on all our

0:30:570:31:02

lives - most especially

on the young and the future.

0:31:020:31:07

With only 12 months to go,

we need answers, not aspirations.

0:31:070:31:13

This is far more than

just a party issue.

0:31:130:31:18

It's about the future

of our United Kingdom,

0:31:180:31:21

and everyone who lives in it.

0:31:210:31:23

That is what matters.

0:31:230:31:27

That is why I'm here today.

0:31:270:31:33

Thank you very much.

0:31:330:31:43

Former Conservative prime minister John Major's speech in London on Brexit negotiations, from Wednesday 28 February.


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