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Former PM attacks UK government over approach to Brexit

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Former British Prime Minister John Major speaks about Britain and Europe's future at Chatham House in London on February 27, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Former British Prime Minister John Major has lashed out at Theresa May and her government's policies regarding Brexit, saying the British people have been misled by “rosy confidence” about “sky high” hopes that may never be realized.

Major made the remarks at a London-based independent policy institute on Sunday, also warning about the huge risks and costs of leaving the European Union.

“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,” the former British premier told the Chatham House think tank. “Obstacles are brushed aside as of no consequence, whilst opportunities are inflated beyond any reasonable expectation of delivery.”

The 73-year-old called on the British premier to be “realistic about the timescale and complexity of the huge undertaking that lies ahead”.

Major said the true realities of what will happen after Brexit are starting to emerge, and that the British government needs to approach the deal with “a little more charm, and a lot less cheap rhetoric.”

Taking a jab at the false optimism of British ministers, the ex-PM said, “The hopes of those who favored leaving the European Union are sky-high. We are told that countries are queuing up to do trade deals with us, that our best days lie ahead.”

“It all sounds very enticing.  And, for the sake of our country, I hope the optimists are proved right. But I’m not sure they will be.  My own experience of international negotiations, and the national self-interest that accompanies them, makes me doubt the rosy confidence being offered to the British people.”

Major harshly criticized May and her ministers for keeping the public in the dark about massive Brexit costs, including a potential 60-billion-pound divorce bill and major potential damage to the UK's National Health Service and welfare.

“The bill will be substantial. Billions, not millions, and very unpalatable. It will come as a nasty shock to voters who were not forewarned of this," he noted. “When you leave any club, you are obliged to settle your debts, and that is what the European Union is going to expect the UK to do.” 

British Prime Minister Theresa May attends a meeting at 10 Downing Street in central London on February 17, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The former British prime minister, who was in office between 1990 and 1997, also cautioned about the impact of Brexit on the bilateral ties between London and Washington, saying “Outside the European Union, we become far more dependent upon the United States and – for four and possibly eight years – upon a president less predictable, less reliable and less attuned to our free-market and socially liberal instincts than any of his predecessors."

In a landmark referendum held on June 23 last year, nearly 52 percent of British voters, amounting to more than 17 million citizens, opted to leave the EU, a decision that sent shock waves throughout the world.

Prime Minister May has promised to begin the Brexit process in March and complete it by 2019. The EU has warned that Britain would have less than 18 months to reach a deal to exit the bloc once Brexit negotiations begin.

Experts have warned that leaving the EU will severely hurt London’s position as a financial hub, unless the UK decides to keep its access to the single EU market by loosening its stance on immigration.

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