Former prime minister Sir John Major has denied the “b*******” have won as he called for MPs to have a free vote on Brexit.
The ex-premier, who was dogged by battles over Europe during his time in power, denied he is now showing the same disloyalty he suffered from.
Speaking to Sky News after delivering a significant intervention against Brexit, Sir John said: “There is a great difference between one speech setting out a position on a policy that is absolutely unique, and day after day undermining for month upon month on every issue that occurred both on the European issue and on other European issues.”
Sir John famously referred to “b*******” on his backbenches, as he suffered numerous battles over European treaty law in the early 1990s.
Some of those the former Tory leader was understood to be referring to at the time still sit on the eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party in the House of Commons.
Although Britain is now on the path of leaving the EU, Sir John insisted his former foes have not been victorious as he set out why he is calling for MPs to have a vote on Brexit, free from the interference of party whips.
Sky News political editor Faisal Islam asked him: “Have the b******* won?”
He said: “The reality is they haven’t. They are a minority. The extreme ultra-Brexiteers are a minority in Parliament.
“We cannot have a decision where the tail wags the dog.
“The majority of people in Parliament don’t agree with the extreme position they set out. They agree with bits of what they say, but not the extreme position.
“Parliament cannot and should not be manipulated in this fashion.”
Sir John stated, at the end of the Brexit process in Parliament, “there should be this free vote to determine what MPs absolutely believe in their heart to be right for the future of this country”.
He added: “We cannot look back in 10 years time and say, ‘well, we shouldn’t have done that, I wish I’d been loyal to my constituents and my conscience rather than loyal to my party whips’.”
The former prime minister had earlier used his speech to raise the prospect of a second referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, as he suggested the make-up of British voters may have changed by the time the UK finally leaves the bloc.
He told a central London audience: “By 2021, after the likely two-year transition, it will be five years since the 2016 referendum.
“The electorate will have changed. Some voters will have left us. Many new voters will be enfranchised. Others may have changed their mind.
“No one can truly know what ‘the will of the people’ may then be. So, let Parliament decide. Or put the issue back to the people.”
However, veteran Tory MP Sir Bill Cash, who was one of the leading rebels against the Maastricht Treaty during Sir John’s government, said it was “breathtaking” that the former prime minister was suggesting there should be a second national vote.
Accusing Sir John of “repudiating the outcome of the referendum”, the Conservative backbencher hit back at the former prime minister’s claim Brexit will leave “people poorer”.
Sir Bill told Sky News: “The fact is that the International Monetary Fund and the other bodies, if he’s going to quote international statistics, has said that about 90% of all the future growth is going to come from outside the EU.
“The reality is that that’s where the future lies and his prescription, which also seems to include the idea of staying in the single market and the customs union and all that sort of talk, actually means that we would not be able to do the kind of trading that we can globally.”