The process for the UK to leave the European Union may be more brutal than anyone expected, a former British prime minister said.
Sir John Major said the UK government's negotiating failure will cost the public dear, as he blamed what he called the UK's "blustering", "threats" and "inflexibility" that will make trading less profitable.
His comments came as the House of Lords, the British parliament's unelected second chamber, voted against clauses of the government’s controversial Internal Market Bill. These clauses would give ministers the power to break international law by “disapplying” elements of the Northern Ireland protocol.
After the vote, the government said it would look to re-insert the clauses when the bill returns to the House of Commons later in the year.
If the threat is carried out, then it could put Prime Minister Boris Johnson on a collision course with US President-elect Joe Biden.
Ministers believed the bill prevented the EU from creating a barrier between Northern Ireland and Britain, while acknowledging that it breaks international law in a “specific and limited way”.
Mr Major, who was a Conservative prime minister from 1990-1997, said: “This action is unprecedented in all our history – and for good reason. It has damaged our reputation around the world.
“Lawyers everywhere are incredulous that the UK – often seen as the very cradle of the rule of law – could give themselves the power to break the law."
Throughout the 2016 EU referendum period, Mr Major was a strong advocate for the Remain vote, and said in his speech in London that Brexit could lead to the break-up of the UK. In 2019, he even took legal action to stop Boris Johnson proroguing of parliament.
“One deeply troubling effect of Brexit is the risk of breaking up the UK by increased support for Scotland to leave the union, and Northern Ireland to unite with the South," he said.
“Neither will do so immediately, but the combination of Brexit – and the unpopularity of our present Westminster government in Scotland – has increased the likelihood of a breach."
Britain urged to stop living in the past
In his recorded speech to members of the legal profession, Mr Major claimed that Britain was "no longer a great power" and "will never be so again".
“In a world of nearly 8 billion people, well under 1 per cent are British," he said.
“We are a top second-rank power but, over the next half century – however well we perform – our small size and population makes it likely we will be passed by the growth of other, far larger, countries.”