Sir John Major has blasted Theresa May for a “high risk” Brexit strategy that will hurt ordinary people and damage the NHS.
In an extrodinary “blue on blue” bust up, the former Tory Prime Minister said that if May fails to achieve a proper trade deal with the EU “whole communities” will be worse off.
In a highly charged speech, Major attacked May for misleading the public over what can be achieved during the Brexit negotiations.
He said: “I have watched with growing concern as the British people have been led to expect a future that seems to be unreal and over-optimistic.
“Obstacles are brushed aside as of no consequence, whilst opportunities are inflated beyond any reasonable expectation of delivery.
“A hard Brexit – which is where we seem to be headed – is high risk. Some will gain. Others will lose.”
Major said that the Britain’s diplomatic relations with EU officials have already “soured”, blaming May for the breakdown.
He said: “A little more charm, and a lot less cheap rhetoric, would do much to protect the UK’s interests.”
He warned that the negotiations are likely to be plunged into crisis within a few days of being triggered because of disagreements over the UK’s “divorce” settlement, which the EU puts at €60bn.
If an agreement over the sum cannot be found, then the case may have to go court and the UK would face the potential of being left with no trade deal at all, he said.
“The trade negotiations will require statesmanship of a high order. There is a real risk the outcome will fall well below the hopes and expectations that have been raised,” Major said.
He pointed out that if the negotiations collapse and the UK has to use World Trade Organisation rules, which would result in massive import and export tariffs, then working people will suffer.
Major said: “People voted to leave Europe in the belief it might improve their lives.
“If events go badly, their expectations will not be met, and whole communities will be worse off.
“The particular fear I have is that those most likely to be hurt will be those least able to protect themselves.”
If this happens, Major warned, right wing Tory Brexiteers would try to decimate public services and turn Britain into a tax-haven nation.
He said: “It has worrying implications for public services such as the NHS – and for the vulnerable.
“There is a choice to be made, a price to be paid. We cannot move to a radical enterprise economy without moving away from a welfare state.”
He concluded that it was in the UK’s best interest for those who are concerned about the country’s future to raise their voices to achieve a soft Brexit.
Major said: “A popular triumph at the polls does not take away the right to disagree.
“Freedom of speech is absolute in our country.
“It’s not ‘arrogant’ or ‘brazen’ or ‘elitist’, or remotely ‘delusional’ to express concern about our future after Brexit.”