John Major gave a speech to Chatham House, George W Bush was interviewed on US TV’s NBC show Today, by Matt Lauer. Neither men have a desire to get back into politics, both have steered away from criticising successors, or government policy – until now. Here are the highlights of what they said
On Freedom of speech
"Freedom of speech is absolute in our country. It’s not 'arrogant' or 'brazen' or 'elitist', or remotely 'delusional' to express concern about our future after Brexit . Nor, by doing so, is this group undermining the will of the people: they are the people. Shouting down their legitimate comment is against all our traditions of tolerance. It does nothing to inform and everything to demean – and it is time it stopped."
George W Bush
"We need an independent media to hold people like me to account. . . Power can be very addictive, and it can be corrosive. And it's important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power, whether it be here or elsewhere. One of the things I spent a lot of time doing (was) trying to convince a person like Vladimir Putin, for example, to accept the notion of an independent press. And it's kind of hard to tell others to have an independent, free press and we're not willing to have one ourself."
On listening to minorities
"After decades of campaigning, the anti-Europeans won their battle to take Britain out of Europe. But, in the afterglow of victory, their cheerleaders have shown a disregard that amounts to contempt for the 48 per cent who believed our future was more secure within the European Union," said John Major. Remain voters are of all political persuasions, and of none. Over recent months, many have written to me in dismay – even despair. They are people from every walk of life who have every right to their view, every right to express it, and every right to have their opinion represented and tested in Parliament. This 48 per cent care no less for our country than the 52 per cent who voted to leave. They are every bit as patriotic. But they take a different view of Britain’s future role in the world, and are deeply worried for themselves, for their families, and for our country. They do not deserve to be told that, since the decision has been taken, they must keep quiet and toe the line. A popular triumph at the polls – even in a referendum – does not take away the right to disagree – nor the right to express that dissent.
George W Bush
“I think it's very important for all of us to recognize one of our great strengths is for all of us to be able to worship the way they want to or not worship at all. A bedrock of our freedom is the right to worship freely. I understood that right off the bat, Matt, that this was an ideological conflict and people that murder the innocent are not religious people. They want to advance an ideology."
“I am no longer in politics. I have absolutely no wish to re-enter it in any capacity. I don’t seek publicity – more often than not, I shy away from it. But I do observe we haven’t yet left the EU, and I have watched with growing concern as the British people have been led to expect a future that seems to be unreal and over-optimistic. Obstacles are brushed aside as of no consequence, whilst opportunities are inflated beyond any reasonable expectation of delivery.”
“Many outcomes will be very different from present expectations. We will find, for example, that – for all the social pressure for immigration control – economically, we will need their skills"
George W Bush
"I'm for an immigration policy that's welcome and that upholds the law."
And more from John Major
“Our departure is also adding to domestic political problems across Europe. Britain has rejected the colossus of the EU. This has energised the anti-EU, anti-immigrant nationalists that are growing in number in France, Germany, Holland – and other European countries.
“None of these populist groups is sympathetic to the broadly tolerant and liberal instincts of the British. Nonetheless, their pitch is straightforward. If Britain – sober, stable, moderate, reliable Britain, with its ancient Parliament and anti-revolutionary history – can break free of a repressive bureaucracy in Brussels, why, then “'o can anyone'. It is a potent appeal.
“I caution everyone to be wary of this kind of populism. It seems to be a mixture of bigotry, prejudice and intolerance. It scapegoats minorities. It is a poison in any political system – destroying civility and decency and understanding. Here in the UK we should give it short shrift, for it is not the people we are – nor the country we are.
“Whatever grievances exist, the UK and Europe cannot ignore one another without mutual damage. As the Prime Minister has intimated, our future self-interest is to co-operate on all aspects of security; on terrorism; on crime.
"We should take a common position on climate change; on human rights; and on representative democracy. We should continue to co-operate over the migrant surge to Europe and contain Russian misbehaviour."
On the UK and US
“As a boy, I was taught that America was our greatest ally and – throughout my life – have seen her as so.
“But America’s size and power means we are, by far, the junior partner: mostly we follow – only rarely can we lead. Despite the romantic view of committed Atlanticists, the “special relationship” is not a union of equals. I wish it were: but it isn’t; America dwarfs the UK in economic and military power. That, sadly – is fact.
“Once we are out of the EU, our relationship with the United States will change. She needs a close ally inside the EU: once outside, that can no longer be us.
“That may not be the only change. If we disagree with American policy, we may weaken our ties. But if we support it slavishly, we become seen as an American echo – an invidious role for a nation that has broken free from Europe to become more independent.
“And – inevitably – there will be disagreements: the US wish to contain China and engage Russia; we wish to contain Russia and engage China.
“We seem likely to disagree also on refugees, free trade, the legality of Jewish settlements, and climate change. How many disagreements can there be before even the closest of ties begin to fray?”
“Leaving the European Union is not just about trade. It will have political consequences. For over forty years, British foreign policy has been based upon the twin pillars of our relations with the United States and the European Union. To be straddled between these two economic and political giants has served us well.
“Outside the European Union, we become far more dependent upon the United States and – for four and possibly eight years – upon a President less predictable, less reliable and less attuned to our free market and socially liberal instincts than any of his predecessors.”