Sir John Major has warned it is “dangerous” to be “flirting” with leaving the European Union and pushing the UK in to “splendid isolation”.
In a blast at eurosceptics on the eve of David Cameron meeting EU leaders in the latest phase of his renegotiation talks, the former Prime Minister argued the UK is “better off, safer and more prosperous” in the union.
Mr Cameron is attempting to thrash out a new deal with Brussels, with a four-year ban on migrants the centrepiece of his proposed new deal. But he is facing resistance on the continent and criticism from his back benches that the package is “thin gruel”.
Whatever he secures will form the basis of the referendum on whether to leave or remain in the EU, which will take place before the end of 2017.
Sir John, whose premiership was marked by rows with Tory eurosceptics over the Maastricht Treaty, told the Today programme: “My view is that this renegotiation is important, but that it shouldn’t decide whether or not we remain inside the European Union because of the importance of the issue. But I have no means of knowing whether that is the Prime Minister’s mind.”
Adding he believes Britain will vote to stay in the union, he said: “We are better off, we are safer, we are going to be more prosperous in rather than out.”
“I am sceptical 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 and against our long-term interests
“For the United Kingdom, 67 million out of a world population of seven billion, to break off and head into splendid isolation doesn’t seem to me to be in our interest now or, perhaps more important, in the interests of our children and our grandchildren and future generations.
"Whatever the frustrations are and whatever comes out of these negotiations, we are going to be able to continue to try and influence the European Union while we are in it.”
While describing many features of the EU as "frustrating as hell", he warned there was a "high probability" that Scotland would leave the UK if Britain left the EU, and added arguments our forward by eurosceptics over regaining sovereignty and controlling borders are "total nonsense", Sir John said.