David Cameron today backed Sir John Major’s warning that public concern about EU immigration could push Britain out of Europe.

Sir John said this week that the chances of Britain leaving the EU were now ‘just under 50 per cent’–and warned the prospect of ‘Brexit’ would grow unless Brussels agrees to accommodate British concerns about free movement.

Speaking in Germany, Sir John said he wanted Britain to remain in the EU. But he said public concern about the scale of immigration, and its impact on public services, could no longer be ignored.

Asked about his predecessor’s comments at a press conference in Canberra, Australia, Mr Cameron said: ‘I think it was an excellent speech and I agree with what he said, particularly the point that he went to Germany to make a very clear speech about the need there is to address Britain’s concerns about immigration inside the EU.

‘I think it is very powerful that a former Prime Minister, a very respected British politician, with a long record of negotiating in Europe, felt it necessary to make that speech in those terms so clearly.

‘It seems to me that one of the reasons he feels so strongly about this is that when countries in Europe have difficulties that need to be addressed, Europe needs to have the flexibility to address them.

‘When there are problems with the French budget or countries’ differing views about what power sources they should use or problems countries have with particular aspects of the EU, we need a network that is flexible enough to cope and manage on these things.

‘That’s why I think John Major’s speech was so powerful, so important and so timely and I agree with what he said.’

Mr Cameron was speaking alongside Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who welcomed him to the Canberra Parliament with a speech in which he hailed the UK as ‘a European country with a global role’.

Mr Abbott indicated that he would prefer Britain to stay in the EU.

He said: ‘I’m not going to offer any specific directives to other countries, or indeed to the European Union.

‘Obviously, it is in all of our interests that Europe collectively is strong, effective and successful. It is in all of our interests–particularly Australia’s interests–that Britain is strong, effective and successful.

‘I think Britain has very much kept its own character, very much kept its freedom of action, while at the same time being a strong and effective member of Europe. I just don’t see that this is an either/or business.

‘I think Britain can be a strong, powerful global voice, while at the same time being an effective member of Europe.’

[Editor’s Note: Below is more information from another Daily Mail article on Sir John’s comments.]

Britain is likely to leave the EU unless it allows us to restrict immigration, Sir John Major warned last night.

In an extraordinary intervention, the former prime minister said ‘our small island cannot absorb’ the huge numbers moving here each year.

Sir John, who declared as premier that he wanted Britain at the heart of the EU, claimed our chances of leaving the union were ‘just under 50 per cent’–and warned this would increase unless Brussels reforms rules on freedom of movement.

He said that although the country welcomed hard-working migrants, the ‘sheer scale of the influx’ had put ‘strains on our health, welfare, housing and education services’.

Britain had accepted ‘one of, if not the largest population movement in peacetime European history’, he told an audience in Germany, adding that failure to tackle the trend would cause ‘huge public disquiet’.

‘It is a matter of numbers,’ he said. ‘Whereas some European populations are falling, the UK has grown by 7 per cent in a decade.’

More than a million people have entered Britain from Poland and seven other former Eastern bloc countries since 2004, when temporary restrictions on migrants from those nations were dropped by Labour. Officials had predicted that just 13,000 would arrive each year.

Sir John, the last Tory leader to win a Commons majority, stressed that he grew up among immigrants in south London who were friends and neighbours.

‘I hate having to make this argument. I hate it. I don’t wish to close our doors to strangers, especially strangers with skills from countries that are often allies.

‘But I do recognise, reluctantly, that our small island simply cannot absorb the present and projected numbers at the current speed. It is not physically or politically possible without huge public disquiet.’

Sir John also launched a strong attack on Ukip, saying: ‘I hope we are going to push them back to the fringes of politics from which they should never have emerged.’

The Tory grandee–whose remarks were shown to and discussed with Downing Street in advance–sketched out David Cameron’s plan to negotiate looser ties with Brussels.


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