Brexit ‘paradox’ as David Cameron dubbed ‘victim of own success’

David Cameron warned EU referendum was ‘stupid’ by Tusk

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The UK left the European trading bloc last year but in recent months has been locked in a fractious dispute with the EU over Northern Ireland. Brussels has stubbornly stuck to its position and refused to make concessions to Britain that would make it easier for trade to cross into Northern Ireland, resulting in chaos for businesses on both sides of the Irish Sea. A recently uncovered interview with the EU’s former political chief Donald Tusk showed that he had warned David Cameron about the potential fallout of Brexit.

Mr Tusk, who was President of the European Council, was interviewed for the 2019 BBC documentary, ‘Inside Europe: 10 Years of Turmoil’.

In Episode 1 he discussed a conversation he had with then-Prime Minister David Cameron about holding an in/out referendum on British membership of the EU.

Mr Tusk said: “I asked David Cameron, ‘why did you decide on this referendum?’, it’s so dangerous, even stupid.

“He told me – and I was really amazed and even shocked – that the only reason was his own party, the Tories.

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“And that he felt really safe because he thought at the same time that there was no risk of a referendum, because his coalition partner, the liberals, would block this idea of a referendum.

“But then, surprisingly, he won and there was no coalition partner. Paradoxically David Cameron became the real victim of his own victory.”

Mr Cameron made good on his promise to deliver the referendum, which had been a commitment in his successful general election campaign.

The move had been a bid to curb growing Euroscepticism among Conservative backbench MPs.

But Britain voted to leave the EU by a majority of 52 percent to 48 percent at the 2016 referendum.

Mr Cameron, who wanted the UK to remain in the EU, immediately resigned after the result of the public vote was announced.

He was replaced by Theresa May, who also resigned after her Brexit deal was voted down by Parliament three times. 

Cameron later admitted to the BBC in 2019 that he did not regret calling the referendum but he did regret losing it.

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He said: “I don’t regret calling the referendum. It was a promise I made two years before the 2015 general election.

“It was included in the manifesto, it was legislated for in parliament — six out of seven members of all parties voted for that referendum.”

Mr Cameron’s admission came as he acknowledged the “difficulties and the problems we’ve been having trying to implement the result of that referendum.”

He later opened up further about the Brexit referendum and the public’s interpretation of what the vote meant as he spoke to NPR’s “All Things Considered”.

He said: “The greatest regret is that we lost the referendum, that I didn’t prevail, that we could’ve fought perhaps a better campaign.

“We could have conducted perhaps a better negotiation — perhaps the timing wasn’t right — and that I didn’t take the country with me on what I thought was a really important issue.

“I think the biggest mistake was letting expectations about what a renegotiation of Britain’s position in the European Union could achieve.

“I allowed people to think there were much more fundamental changes — that we could almost have a sort of pick-and-choose aspect to which European laws we obeyed and which we didn’t. And this, I think, was damaging.”

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