Sir John Major

Last week I attended a dinner in London held for the patrons of the Arundel and South Downs Conservative Association.

The guest of honour was the former Prime Minister Sir John Major.

I was struck by a number of things that he said in a very statesmanlike speech, one of which was about the need to remain committed to the war in Afghanistan.

I had the privilege of responding to his speech and I made the point that the country owes him a great debt in so many ways.

First, it was John Major who negotiated the opt-out from the Maastricht Treaty which meant that we didn't have to join the euro.

As the founder of the national "no" campaign against joining the euro, I always believed that it would be an economic disaster for the UK to join.  And while it is in our national interest that the euro is strong and stable, problems in the Eurozone for countries like Ireland and Greece are now very stark.  

John Major also gave us an opt-out on the Social Chapter.  Regrettably the previous government then opted in.  And we've seen the impact of measures like the Working Time Directive, which drove the dreadful Fit for the Future proposals to downgrade our local hospitals.

Of course, the British public have never been given a proper say on these issues.   There hasn't been a referendum on big changes to our relationship with the European Union since 1975 when the UK voted to stay in the Common Market.

So I'm delighted that the Coalition Government is introducing a referendum lock which will ensure that no further powers are transferred from Westminster to Brussels without giving the British people a proper say.

Finally, it was John Major who initiated the peace process in Northern Ireland in the early 1990s which laid the foundations for the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Not to mention the legacy he bequeathed of public spending under control and a growing economy.  If only the current government had inherited the same economic conditions.

Christopher N Howarth