Sir John Major has given a friendly warning to the European Union. Unless there are tangible changes agreed in a renegotiation the UK may well leave.

Thus far the Eurocrats don’t seem to have the taken the prospect seriously – even though they rely heavily on the contribution from British taxpayers for their generous salaries. Partly this insouciance about a British referendum is understandable. It is dependent on a Conservative victory at the General Election.

Until then it is not Government policy – nor is the requirement for the renegotiation to precede it. Therefore the Foreign Office are precluded from undertaking about the change in the terms of membership that are being sought.

Sir John was speaking in Berlin and the speech was very much aimed for continental consumption. He disposed of the notion that there was any validity in the Eurocrats having some principled objection to renegotiation:

“I hear it said by eminent Europeans that freedom of movement is sacrosanct. It is one of the four freedoms set out in the founding Treaty. The argument is that if we tamper with freedom of movement, the other freedoms will fall. I understand that view but it has a flaw. Twenty five years after the Single European Act, the other founding freedoms are not fully honoured by the EU. Not one of them. If freedom of movement is immutable, when will member states complete the Single Market? When will they end closed shops and protectionism, and open their markets to British services – especially our professional services? When will they fully integrate capital markets? Or the energy market? Or digital? Need I go on? If these had been implemented in full, then Britain’s case on free movement would be weakened. But they are not.”

He added:

“If France breaches her deficit limits – and this is not unknown – we all know time will be granted for France to meet her obligations: no one doubts an accommodation can be found. That genius for pragmatism – for compromise – is needed now.”

Whatever happened to subsidiarity, Sir John wondered:

Our people deeply resent interference in the day to day activities that have been part of the British way of life for generations. This is not a new emotion. Nor is it unique to my own country. Over 20 years ago, as Prime Minister, I raised this issue at Maastricht and – with the powerful support of Germany – wrote the principle of subsidiarity into the Treaty. Subsidiarity was intended to ensure that things should only be done by the European Union if they cannot be done by the Nation State. In rulings, the ECJ treated subsidiarity as a policy test, not a legal limitation. Past Commissions – and Parliaments – disliked this restraint, and by-passed the provision from the outset. If they had not done so – if it had been honoured with the same fervour as some other parts of the Treaty – much of the public discontent across Europe might have been avoided. Subsidiarity needs to be restated, made legal, and enforced with rigour. 

The trouble is that Sir John, along with the rest of us, probably thought that subsidiarity had legal force at the time. As he recounted the Treaty wasn’t honoured. Isn’t that a strong reason for voting to come out in the referendum regardless of what is promised in the renegotiation as we can not rely on it being delivered?

Earlier this year Sir John called for a full time lead EU negotiator someone who was “seen as the prime minister personal emissary”. Given that the referendum would be held by the end of 2017 the time pressures involved mean such an appointment would make sense. His latest comments remind us of the scale of the task.

Who should undertake it? Lord Callanan would be a strong choice as the former Leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists group. He would be well placed to cut through all the Euro obfuscation.

The Conservative MP Peter Lilley knows a thing or two about negotiating – he was a Treasury Minister and then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

The criteria are that it must be the determination and technical experience to make a serious attempt at reaching an acceptable settlement. But also someone with such unimpeachable Eurosceptic credentials that if they failed they would be honest enough to say so and to give a clear message to the British people that we have no alternative but to leave.

Such a person would not be able to start work until after the General Election – due to the obstruction of the Lib Dems. But couldn’t the choice of who would have the job be announced before hand? Earlier this year in an article for the Sunday Telegraph David Cameron indicated some of the objectives. Deciding on a negotiator would be another important piece of preliminary work.

Then on May 8th next year whoever is asked to undertake it could get cracking.