When David Cameron resigned as British Prime Minister after losing the Brexit vote in 2016, he gave MPs a somber farewell speech: “I was once the future.” Few, perhaps including Mr Cameron himself, expected to see him return.
And yet, on Monday morning, there he was, walking down the leaf-strewn corridor at 10 Downing Street to accept his appointment as Foreign Secretary from the current Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak. Mr Cameron’s appointment must rank as one of the most remarkable comebacks in British political history.
For Mr Sunak, who has presented himself as an agent of change, this is not only a surprising choice, but also a deeply counterintuitive one. Mr Cameron is merely a bridge to the Conservative past. The decisions he made, and the policies he pursued, infuriate Mr Sunak’s government today, a dubious legacy that helps explain the erratic trajectory of the politically troubled Prime Minister.
Few public figures are more closely associated with Brexit than Mr. Cameron, who called a referendum on leaving the European Union, campaigned against it, and then resigned after a slim majority of Britons, including Mr. Sunak, voted for it.
Few are more linked to austerity, the economic policy introduced by Cameron, 57, when he took office in 2010. It has been blamed for starving Britain’s public services, including the crisis-plagued National Health Service, which has helped slow… Economy. The popularity of Mr Sunak’s government.
Cameron’s victory in 2010, forming a coalition government with the centrist Liberal Democrats, marked the opening of a long era of Conservative government. Although Mr Sunak has at times embraced this legacy, particularly with his emphasis on fiscal responsibility, he has also appeared to oppose it.
“Make no doubt, it is time for change, and we are,” he told Conservative Party members at their annual conference last month.
It is not clear how the appointment of a volatile former prime minister fits into the definition of change. But Mr Cameron’s appointment serves another purpose: with James Cleverly, the Foreign Secretary, moving to Suella Braverman’s job at the Home Office, Mr Sunak needed a familiar and experienced figure to run the Foreign Office at a time of major wars. In Ukraine and Gaza.
“There is a chance – a weak chance, but a chance nonetheless – that this will give the UK more influence on the world stage at a time of intense international conflict,” said Timothy Bell, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London. .
Mr. Cameron’s appointment will help Mr. Sunak pull his government back to the center after a period in which Ms. Braverman’s inflammatory statements sparked criticism that the government was becoming extreme and reactionary on issues such as immigration. Mr. Cameron also has a keen interest in foreign policy. As prime minister, he created a National Security Council modeled on the one in the White House.
Jonathan Powell, former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s chief of staff, said: “Sunak is not interested in foreign policy.” “This being the case, who can I give foreign policy to so that I don’t have to worry about it next year?”
But the internal politics of Mr Cameron’s appointment are “difficult to predict”, Professor Bell said, “apart of course from the day or two of distraction following Suella Braverman’s belated departure”.
Mr Cameron remains a divisive figure, even within his own party, because of the way he handled the Brexit referendum. Some conservatives accused him of political expediency and trying to suppress the party’s troubled right wing. Others said he led a lackluster campaign against Brexiteers, such as Nigel Farage and another former prime minister, Boris Johnson.
Cameron justified the call for the referendum by saying that Britons deserved to vote on the country’s relationship with the European Union, given how much the EU had changed during its decades of membership.
However, Michael Portillo, a former government minister, said calling the 2016 referendum “will be remembered as the greatest mistake ever made by a British prime minister” – a view that was not unusual in political circles.
When ITV presenter Tom Bradby interviewed Cameron in 2019 for the publication of his memoir, For the Record, he said viewers wrote to him to say: “I hope you will ask him to apologize for what happened.” “The mess he left behind.”
“I accept that my approach has failed,” Cameron wrote in his book. “The decisions I made contributed to this failure. I to fail.”
Likewise, Cameron’s fiscal austerity program with Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne cast a long shadow over his tenure. Mr Cameron has defended the policy as a necessary response to the global financial crisis. He pointed out that he left the British economy with more jobs than it had when he took office.
But cuts in public spending for institutions such as the NHS have left deep scars. Mr Sunak has pledged to reduce waiting times in NHS hospitals, making it one of his five main goals. Critics expect this to be an uphill struggle due to years of weak investment since the Cameron government.
Professor Bell said Cameron’s poll numbers were already low, and his reputation was further tarnished after he was caught up in a lobbying scandal on behalf of Greensill Capital, an Anglo-Australian financial firm that collapsed in 2021.
Mr Cameron sent text messages to Mr Sunak, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, urging him to approve loans to Greensill, a supply chain finance company. Mr Sunak did not act on the requests, but raised questions about why the company had as much access as it did.
Mr Cameron did not break any laws, but his dealings added to the image of the former leader spending his money. He was expected to receive $70 million in stock options from Greensill, according to the Financial Times; The collapse of the company rendered them worthless. He also traveled to Saudi Arabia with the company’s founder, Lex Greensill, where the two camped with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
By all accounts, Mr Cameron has had a comfortable post-political career. He received an advance of £800,000 ($980,000) for his memoirs. He joined several boards and became president of an Alzheimer’s charity. He plays tennis regularly at a club near his home in west London. In 2017, Mr. Cameron’s wife, Samantha, started her own women’s fashion business.
Mr Cameron graduated from Eton and Oxford and his father was a stockbroker, already a member of the British elite. Now he can add a life peerage in the House of Lords, which King Charles III granted him on Monday so he can be eligible to serve as Foreign Secretary. Mr Cameron stepped down as an MP in 2016; Ministers must serve in the House of Commons or the Lords.
Cameron’s six years in Downing Street will make him a very well-connected Foreign Secretary. But critics are scrutinizing his government’s foreign policy positions, some of which appear questionable in hindsight.
Mr Cameron hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2015, heralding a “golden era” in relations with Beijing. He joined the US-led military intervention in Libya in 2011, which led to the overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, but was criticized in Britain for the chaos that followed.
Mr. Cameron has cultivated close ties with the United States, once attending a college basketball game as a guest of President Barack Obama. But the two faced a difficult situation regarding plans to respond to Syria after it used chemical weapons against its people.
Obama cited Cameron’s failure to obtain parliamentary approval for a military strike as one of the reasons that prompted him to postpone the planned strike. Cameron personally favored military action, even if he could not convince lawmakers, while Obama ultimately decided against it.
“With regard to Syria, I don’t think we saw things the same way,” Cameron said in an interview with the New York Times.
“Coffee trailblazer. Certified pop culture lover. Infuriatingly humble gamer.”