EU Referendum

Former Australian premier John Howard backs Britain to leave EU

Former Australian premier John Howard backs Britain to leave EU

Britain has ‘lost its sovereignty’ says politician who campaigned to retain monarchy
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 28: Australian Prime Minister John Howard (L) gestures during a news conference with his British counterpart Tony Blair at Parliament House March 28, 2006 in Canberra, Australia. Blair is in Australia on a four-day state visit. (Photo by Rob Griffith-Pool/Getty Images)©

Getty   John Howard with Tony Blair, who was visiting Australia in 2006

He is the monarchist who defeated the republicans in Australia’s 1999 referendum on whether the country should keep the Queen. Now John Howard, former Australian prime minister, has the UK’s battle over EU membership in his sights — and he firmly favours a British exit.

“The European project is fundamentally flawed. I think its best days are probably behind it and there will be increasing tensions [over migration]. Britain can’t control its borders — it is ridiculous to say it can,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times. “If I were British, which I’m not, I’d vote to leave. You have lost your sovereignty.”

Australia has about 1.2m expat Britons, the largest UK diaspora in the world. Spain and the US are ranked second and third, according to data compiled by the British High Commission in Australia.

However, only British nationals who have been registered to vote in the UK in the past 15 years will be eligible to register to vote in the EU referendum, which is likely to exclude some older British nationals.

Mr Howard says he is not campaigning in the referendum battle or making any appeal either to expat British voters or to Australian citizens resident in the UK, who are also eligible to vote in the plebiscite. But when thinking from a British point of view, he says leaving the union is in the UK’s best interests.

“In 1975 the idea of Europe being a counterweight to the US had a lot more force than it does now. The future of the world is now so much more in the Asia-Pacific region and in a way the British, because of their long history with the rest of the world, could perhaps take better advantage of that acting on their own,” he said.

Britain was hamstrung on several issues because of its relationship with the EU. “We [Australia] have just completed three trade agreements [China, South Korea and Japan] and Britain can’t do that . . . it has to go through Brussels.”

However, the Conservative government’s introduction of migration laws that limit the issuing of skilled visas to non-EU citizens is raising concern among Australians in the UK and some British expats who see it as a further weakening of the Commonwealth.

“One of the consequences of being in the EU is that if the British are going to keep the migration numbers down they have to squeeze the non-EU migration,” said Mr Howard. “They can’t stop EU migration, and that affects Australians.”

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