UK's ex-PM John Major: Brexit will damage UK political influence as trade deals likely elusive
BYLeslie Shaffer
Published 1:17 AM ET Thu, 20 April 2017
Carl Court | Getty Images

Brexit will damage the U.K.'s political and economic influence, with fresh trade deals likely to prove difficult to negotiate, former British Prime Minister John Major and leader of the Conservative party from 1990-1997, said on Thursday.

"The U.K. has a robust political and economic structure. And so I do not share the view of those who anticipate an economic catastrophe upon leaving," Major said at the Credit Suisse Global Megatrends conference in Singapore on Thursday. "What I do fear is that the U.K. will be less influential politically and will do less well economically than if she had remained in the European Union."

Major, who was a key figure in the negotiation of the Maastricht treaty, which, when signed in 1991, formed the European Union, said he expected the economic downsides of Brexit will come in "slow time," rather than being immediately felt.

"I don't for example expect lots of banks to up and move from the City of London, but I do think when it comes to considering fresh investment, there may be more fresh investment in the European Union, and maybe a little less in the U.K."

He was also critical of elevated expectations that trade negotiations would proceed quickly.

"Those who favor Brexit, anti-Europeans, promise an easy deal because they say the 27 other European Union members export more to the U.K. than the U.K. does to them. But that crude statistic masks a significant reality," he said. "While the U.K. exports nearly half of their goods to Europe, the average exports of the other 27 European nations to the U.K. are a mere 8 percent of their exports. There is no doubt which side most urgently needs a deal."

He admonished policymakers to be realistic about the time scale and complexity of negotiations, noting that his country has not only forfeited access to the single market and customs union, but also bilateral trade deals negotiated by the European Union, for members of the bloc, with 53 other nations.

"Once we leave, we lose those bilateral deals," he said. "Can we, 65 million Britons, get the same deal as 500 million Europeans negotiated for Europe, including the U.K.?"

Major also expressed concern that Brexit would cost the European Union influence, especially as it is set against the other global superpowers, China and the U.S.

"A united Europe matters as a political force in a way that individual European nations never again will do," he said.