LONDON (Reuters) - Quitting the European Union would leave Britain in dangerous “splendid isolation” and could lead to the break up of the United Kingdom itself, former Prime Minister John Major said on Wednesday.
Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to renegotiate Britain’s EU ties ahead of a membership referendum by the end of 2017. While he favors staying in a reformed EU, he has said he rules nothing out if he does not get the changes he wants.
Cameron’s Conservatives have long been divided over Europe, an issue which contributed to the downfall of Major and his predecessor Margaret Thatcher.
“I am skeptical of a great deal of European Union policy but flirting with leaving at a moment when the whole world is coming together seems to me to be very dangerous,” Major, Conservative prime minister from 1990 to 1997, told BBC Radio.
“For the United Kingdom, 67 million out of a world population of 7 billion, to break off and head into splendid isolation doesn’t seem to me to be in our interests.”
Major, 72, said a British exit would increase the chances of another independence referendum in Scotland that could fracture the United Kingdom.
He said the renegotiation effort was important but shouldn’t determine whether or not Britain remained in the 28-member bloc, where it would be safer and more prosperous.
Major warned that many of the arguments put forward by those who favor leaving the EU were “illusory” and that quitting the bloc would also not allow Britain to have complete control over immigration, a key voter concern.
“If we leave the European Union it won’t be a friendly departure, it’ll be very acrimonious, negotiations with an irate ex-partner could be very difficult, we may get a very sub-standard deal to enter the single market,” he said.
“In or out we can’t keep the world at bay,” said Major.
Reporting by Kylie MacLellan and Kate Holton; editing by Guy Faulconbridge