Theresa May should offer MPs a free vote on the final Brexit deal, with the option of putting it to the public in a second referendum, former prime minister Sir John Major has said.
In a high-profile intervention in the Brexit debate, he warned of a âterrible backlashâ from the public if EU withdrawal leaves the UK poorer and weaker, as forecasts suggest.
Sir John called on Mrs May to stand up to the âultra-Brexitâ minority in her party and drop her âred linesâÂ of taking Britain out of the single market and customs union.
Warning that the Governmentâs negotiating position was not realistic, he urged the Prime Minister to be prepared to âchange courseâ and seek a Norway-style solution which would involve accepting single market rules and paying for access to EU markets.
It was ânot credibleâ to expect to leave the single market, customs union and European Court of Justice while at the same time seeking a-la-carte access to European markets, he said.
He warned: âUnrealistic aspirations are usually followed by retreat.Â That is a lesson for the negotiations to come.
âThey will be the most difficult any Government has faced. Our aims have to be realistic. I am not sure they yet are.â
The Conservative Party appeared not to understand business concerns over Brexit, and was only saved from a âhaemorrhage of business supportâ because of fears of Labourâs Jeremy Corbyn taking power, said the former PM.
Losing trade advantages in relation to the EU was an act of âeconomic self-harmâ and loss of access to Europe could cost as many as 125,000 jobs in Japanese-owned firms alone.
Speaking in London just two days before Mrs May sets out her own vision for a post-Brexit Britain, Sir John said that the referendum result obliged the Government to negotiate a Brexit deal, but not to pull the UK out of the EU âat any costâ.
Mrs Mayâs current position was âtilted to ultra-Brexit opinionâ, even though hardline leavers had so far been wrong in nearly every promise they made to referendum voters, he said.
The Governmentâs duty was to ânegotiate a Brexit, but not any Brexit, not at all costs and certainly not on any termsâ, said Sir John.
âMany electors know they were misled: many more are beginning to realise it. So, the electorate has every right to reconsider their decision.â
Mrs May should make clear that the âmeaningful voteâ promised to MPs on the final Brexit deal will have the options of accepting or rejecting the outcome, sending negotiators back to seek improvements or calling a second referendum, he said.
He called on Mrs May to âlet Parliament decide, or put the issue back to the British peopleâ.
With only 37% of the electorate actively backing Leave, the referendum did not deliver an âoverwhelming mandate to ignore the reservations of 16 million voters who believe it will be a harmful change of direction for our countryâ, said Sir John.
âOf course, the âwill of the peopleâ canât be ignored, but Parliament has a duty also to consider the well-being of the people,â he said.
âNo-one voted for higher prices and poorer public services, but that is what they may get. The emerging evidence suggests Brexit will hurt most those who have least. Neither Parliament nor Government wish to see that.â
Sir John rejected arguments that it was âunpatrioticâ not to back Brexit, stating: âIt is precisely because I am patriotic that I oppose it.
âI want my country to be influential, not isolated; committed, not cut-off; a leading participant, not a bystander. I want us to be richer, not poorer.â