Tory former prime minister Sir John Major has accused the UK Government of embarking on a policy of national “self harm” over Brexit.
Sir John used a speech at Newcastle Cathedral on Thursday to say that EU withdrawal will impact on the young and less well-off the hardest.
The ex-PM also expressed concern at poverty levels and the widespread use of food banks as he admitted that he failed in his aim of creating “a country at ease with itself” when he was in power.
Sir John said that EU withdrawal would deliver “far worse times” for the UK.
He told the North East England Chamber of Commerce: “It is the first time in our long history that any British Government has embraced a policy of self-harm, despite their own advisers warning that it will make our nation weaker – and our people poorer.”
“I believe Brexit is regressive. The campaigners for ‘Leave’ promised better times, yet Brexit will deliver far worse times.”
“The Centre for European Reform estimates Brexit is already costing our public finances £320 million a week.”
“And this, of course, excludes the ‘divorce bill’ of £39 billion, and the growing cost across Government of managing our exit from Europe.”
“In addition, almost every sector of business has warned of trouble ahead – and every independent study of every conceivable Brexit – even by our own Government – shows that once we leave, the UK will be worse off, year after year after year.”
“I can recall nothing to match this.”
Sir John said that Brexit would hit the young and those with least the hardest.
“And what makes this even more extraordinary is that we are a welfare state society. Those who will suffer the most are those who have the least.”
“Over time, the young may prove to be the biggest losers.”
“In advance of Brexit, they fear for their future. Post Brexit – if they turn out to be right – they may neither forget nor forgive those responsible.”
Sir John called for a renewed drive against poverty.
He said: “Britons know they live in a democratic country, but many no longer believe they are living in a fair society.”
“And, in this, they are right.”
“I entered Number 10 29 years ago with an ambition to build a country ‘at ease with itself’. I failed. So have all my successors.”
“But, today, the need to build such a society is even greater.”
“The poverty of today is not the grinding poverty of yesteryear. At the height of our empire, millions of Britons struggled to eat. But relative poverty – the invisible poverty that often bypasses social safety nets – is still a potent issue.”
“It cannot be right that – in the fifth or sixth richest nation in the world – food banks have become essential in the lives of so many people.”
“We see poverty as a social evil which, of course, it is. It destroys lives. But I would argue that it is far more than that – it is an economic evil, too.”
“The case against poverty is unanswerable. Ending it may be expensive but – in the long-term – it may be more costly not to do so.”
Sir John also called for more emphasis to be put on regional investment and development.