July 17, 2018 / 7:58 PM / 3 months ago

'Fanatical' pro-Brexit lawmakers pushing UK towards new election - former PM Major

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Theresa May could be forced to call another election in months if the “fanatical” pro-Brexit wing of her party do not compromise over how Britain leaves the EU, former prime minister John Major warned on Tuesday.

Major, who led Britain from 1990 to 1997, said he feared the country was on course for a disorderly Brexit, with May unable to reconcile the two wings of the Conservative Party.

A campaigner to stay in the EU, Major said some lawmakers in his and May’s party were now prepared to go to any lengths to leave the bloc, regardless of the potential damage to the economy or the risk that this could lead to a Labour government.

“It seems to me there are people in parliament who would be perfectly content to have an exit with no deal,” Major told ITV News, referring to “the hard, most convinced Brexit supporters” who refuse to compromise.

“My concern is about those who are a touch too fanatical about the issue and are really prepared to go to almost any lengths to ensure we leave Europe, irrespective of the cost to the country ... irrespective of anything but their own fanatical determination to make sure we actually leave Europe.”

The pressures building on the prime minister have come to a head in the last week, after the government finally published its strategy for leaving the EU, which disappointed both sides of the divide.

On Monday, May was forced to bow to demands from her party’s hardline Brexit supporters to amend her legislation while on Tuesday she narrowly avoided defeat in parliament at the hands of pro-EU lawmakers who wanted closer ties with the bloc.

The eurosceptic Conservatives say May’s plans to keep close trade ties with the EU after Brexit betray the majority of voters who opted in 2016 for a clean break with the bloc.

During Major’s premiership, Britain was forced to withdraw from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, the predecessor to the single currency, in 1992. Major faced the same divisions over Europe as the party is battling now, but said the pro-Brexit wing had put May in a much more difficult position.

“It must be very hard for the prime minister to take rather threatening lectures day after day about what they will accept, when they are actually a minority,” he said.

“I think what they are doing is quite likely to lead to a much earlier general election than anybody is anticipating. Whether that’s this autumn or next spring, I can’t say.”

Reporting by Kate Holton; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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