The EU - In or Out?

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Jun 16, 2016
by Salzburg Global Seminar
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The EU - In or Out?

Former UK Prime Minister asks should the UK stay in or out of the EU at the annual Palliser Lecture John Major delivers the third annual Palliser lecture at HSBC

Sir John Major, former Prime Minster of the UK, delivered the Palliser Lecture for Salzburg Global Seminar in London on Wednesday 15 June on the theme The EU: In or Out? 

Speaking at the event, hosted by HSBC, Sir John argued that the EU had been, and remains, essential to the UK’s security as well as prosperity: 

“NATO is our military arm in times of danger. But the EU has worked to prevent military action; to bring former enemies together; to end Franco-German hostility; to build economic cooperation; … it has widened its borders to offer democracy to nations once trapped in the Soviet sphere; … it has faced down threats from Russia and Iran with communal sanctions … Little or none of this could the UK have done alone.”

Download the full transcript

He rebutted the Leave campaign argument that EU membership compromises our security:

“We’re told that – if we stay in the EU – all sorts of terrorists and undesirables are going to come flooding into our country from Europe. Really? Over the last decade two terrible incidents stand out: the 7/7 bombings in London and the murder of Lee Rigby. Both were carried out by long-term UK residents, not European migrants.” 

He pointed to the reality of our trading relationship with Europe as opposed to the wild guesswork of what it might be outside:

“We export six times as much to the EU as to Brazil, Russia, China and India added together. We export five times as much to the EU as to all the other 52 members of the Commonwealth added together. And we sell more services to tiny Luxembourg than to mighty India with a population of over one billion. These are the facts now – not the Boris-in-Wonderland aspirations of what might come to pass if we left Europe…” 

Sir John emphasised the overwhelming support from the UK’s friends, allies and investors to remain. With a view to the investment essential to jobs and national prosperity, he said: 

“When I hear that China is poised to triple her investments inside the EU – I think of what the UK might lose outside of it. And when I put the question: “Is the world more likely to invest in a British market of 65 million or a European market of 500 million?’ I am beyond baffled that anyone could argue for exit from the European Union.”

Brexit could have a devastating effect on Europe which would rebound on the UK, warned Major:

“If the UK leaves and if the EU implodes, the impact on our security, our trade, our living standards and on Europe’s place in a world of mischief would all be negative. The next few years could be chaotic, dysfunctional, and the fight to secure national advantage for each European Country could be ugly – and produce many casualties.”

He tackled the Leave campaign arguments on immigration:

“Over half of all our immigration is from outside the EU. EU migrants include 52,000 doctors and nurses; 80,000 social care workers; 43,000 academics in Higher Education; and a total of 240,000 men and women in our public services. Are they really unwelcome? Are they undesirable? Are they a threat? What an absurd notion.”

Sir John argued that remaining is the patriotic choice:

“In this debate over Europe no one side has a monopoly on patriotism. The Leave campaign believes it is patriotic to – I quote – ‘take back control’. Although I don’t doubt their sincerity, the premise of that statement is profoundly flawed, and their definition too narrow. 

“I believe it’s patriotic to work with others to ensure our security; to improve our economic wellbeing; to carry British influence and British values around Europe and the world. The optimistic patriot looks outwards and forwards – not inwards and backwards.

“It is simply not true that we need to leave Europe to make us a great country: we are a great country – that is why people wish to come here.”

He concluded:

“If our nation votes … to leave on the basis of half-truths and untruths then – pretty soon – the grave-diggers of our prosperity will have to account for what they have said and done – but that will be of no consolation, for we will be out. Out for good. Diminished as an influence on the world. A truly great Britain, shrunk down to a Little England.

“That is not the future I wish to see for our country.”

Download the full text of the Lecture as a PDF

This news article was held back until today with respect to the suspension of the EU referendum debate following the murder of MP Jo Cox. Salzburg Global shares in the worldwide outrage at her death and sends deepest condolences to her family and friends.


This was the third annual lecture to be held in memory of the Rt Hon Sir Michael Palliser GCMG, who died in 2012.

Sir Michael served as Vice Chair of the Board of Salzburg Global Seminar and was a founding trustee of the London-based 21st Century Trust, which now works exclusively with Salzburg Global Seminar. His counsel and support were a huge boon to our work over many years. Sir Michael enjoyed a long career in the British Diplomatic Service, culminating as Permanent Under Secretary of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Head of the Service. He also served on the boards of a number of companies, including as Chairman of the merchant bank Samuel Montagu & Co., a subsidiary of HSBC.

The Rt Hon Sir John Major KG CH was Prime Minister from 1990 until 1997. He was elected an MP in 1979 and a decade later was successively Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer before succeeding Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister in 1990.