Speaking at our President's Club Lunch at Newcastle Cathedral
The Rt Hon Sir John Major KG CH, spelt out the dangers of Brexit and the need for the UK to build a fair society during his speech to 250 business leaders at Newcastle Cathedral.
The speech, part of North East England Chamber of Commerce President’s Club lunch, also set out his view on the untapped potential of British regions like the North East, to contribute to the national economy.
On leaving the EU he said: “Brexit will deliver worse times and I’m afraid Project Fear will be seen as real. I can recall nothing to match this decision to leave the EU and the way it is being handled, where the Government is embracing a policy of self-harm.
In relation to the future of the country he spoke passionately about his desire for British society to be fair and how poverty today both wasted talent and was costly to society as whole in the long term. Poverty was damaging economically as well as socially.
He said: “A lack of fairness eats at the social fabric of society and it shouldn’t. In the UK only 4% of professions such as doctors, dentists and surgeons come from a low income backgrounds. I am shocked that your circumstances of birth should still determine your life options.
It is also not right that some of the very poorest people have a life span 20 years shorter than others who are well-off.”
He was positive about the Northern Powerhouse and the need to promote all regions in the UK, to sell their advantages compared to London. Outside of the South East he said there was more space for development, more reasonably priced houses and less commuting time. He said: “The answer is to give more responsibility to the regions and improve the infrastructure which can in turn improve productivity. Regions need investment and if not now, when?”
Sir John Major also addressed the future skills base of the country. “If we are going to lose our immigration skills post Brexit then it is imperative we reform our school curriculum and ensure the next generation have the skills we need. There has to be a skills revolution and without delay.
“It is essential we inject hope and optimism into our future because as it stands hope will remain the missing ingredient in the lives of many people.”
Chamber President John McCabe also addressed the guests and singled out Brexit as a key issue of concern. He said: “The government’s use of no-deal as leverage in its negotiations is extremely reckless. It is demonstrably harming business and investor confidence and provides little reassurance to those firms that are struggling to plan beyond the end of March.
“Brexit is such a dominant issue it has all but eliminated debate on the other big issues facing our economy, yet it is vital that Government does not take its eye off the ball when it comes to topics such as skills, transport and the health of our town centres.”