Sir John Major has told ITV News the Conservative rebels Theresa May is facing over her Brexit plan are more “hardline” and “entrenched” than the Tory MPs who defied him over Europe in the 1990s.
The former Prime Minister said a group of Brexiters within the Tory party – led by Jacob Rees-Mogg – are “very difficult to negotiate with”.
He added that they give Mrs May “rather threatening lectures day after day as to what they will expect [over Brexit], when they are actually a minority in the Conservative parliamentary party”. Sir John said some are “fanatics” who are “prepared to go to almost any lengths to ensure we leave Europe”.
The rebels’ behaviour could “cause a Corbyn government” and lead to a general election this autumn or next spring, he believes.
Sir John was Prime Minister between 1990 and 1997.
Speaking to ITV News, Sir John said: “There is ‘undoubtedly’ a case for a second referendum’ on Brexit. A Brexit ‘no deal’ scenario would be ‘catastrophic’ and likely lead to a general election. Brexit voters were made false promises by campaigners and will become worse off, not better off.”
The former PM backed Remain during the referendum campaign.
Since Theresa May agreed her Brexit plan with her Cabinet in Chequers on 6 July, Brexit Secretary David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson have resigned from government over its contents. Several government ministers have also quit.
On 16 July, Theresa May bowed to pressure from Tory Brexiters after accepting crucial changes to plans for leaving the European Union – narrowly winning a Commons vote by 305 votes to 302
On 15 July, former Conservative cabinet minister Justine Greening said there should be a second referendum, with three options on the ballot paper – Theresa May’s plan, Brexit with “no deal” or remaining in the EU.