Cameron’s memoirs have been published and his views on the EU, the referendum and Brexit, coming straight from the horse’s mouth as it were, are indeed more interesting than I thought. I base my view on the BBC series “The Cameron Years”. The first part has been broadcast and you can watch it on iPlayer.

This is underlined by Fraser Nelson who reviews Cameron’s memoirs in the DT, making essentially the same points, under the title “David Cameron has unwittingly written the best ever case for Brexit” (paywalled link).

In the BBC programme we hear from Osborne and Clegg, ad infinitum, why they thought the referendum was a very bad idea. Osborne comes clean on the Project Fear scenarios: they  were his idea to frighten us into Remain. Good to know that our suspicions were correct! Clegg keeps telling us how he tried to persuade Cameron not to do it – well, we know by now that he was in the pay of the EU. Most of that programme was given over to the ‘betrayal’ by Gove and Johnson, Cameron wielding a rather heavy knife here to stick in their backs. Still, describing in detail his experiences of the EU, Cameron thought that a Referendum was the only way to deal with the EU problem.

In his book review, Fraser Nelson touches on those points raised by Cameron in the TV series, and starts with this apt summary “The former PM expected diplomacy from the EU but found a bureaucratic Death Star incapable of reform”. We’ve had ample evidence of that, the latest is in today’s “Brexit Betrayal” column. Nelson continues:

For The Record was written as political tragedy, a 700-page apology to the nation for the former prime minister’s role in what he regards as a calamity.

But it’s also a candid account of how he pursued an idea – that the EU can be reformed – and tested it to (his) destruction. We see him making allies, drafting strategies, threatening and begging – but his story ends in failure. He expected diplomacy, but encountered a bureaucratic Death Star whose hunger for power is matched only by its intransigence. From the former Remainer-in-Chief, it’s quite a story.” (paywalled link)

So it is, and I had no idea that Cameron was actually a sort-of soft eurosceptic. That also comes through in the BBC series. Here’s more from Nelson’s review, on the same point:

“Cameron started out a Eurosceptic, but one who thought that the irritations of the EU were a price worth paying for the general aims of solidarity and free trade. In opposition, he mocked politicians who “bang on about Europe” but in No 10 he soon found out why they did.

Once inside its inner circle, he was exposed to the horrors. The directives, the stitch-ups, the knives always out for the City of London. […] The purpose of these meetings, he discovered, was to grind everyone into submission. Including, eventually, him. […] He vetoed one of the eurozone bailout packages that threatened to suck in Britain, only to see the rules changed so the UK veto would not count. When the UK tried to go its own way, it “wasn’t simply a disagreement with the others, it was a heresy against the scripture”.” (paywalled link)

The next bit in the book review underlines that nothing at all has changed since Cameron started on his attempts of reforming the EU:

“Britain’s ability to get what it wants was, by contrast, pretty minimal. When the federalist Jean-Claude Juncker was put forward as European Commission president, Cameron was shocked to discover that just two of the 28 EU member states’ leaders wanted him. {…] Why, he asks then, go along with this stitch-up? He stays up late drinking wine with fellow leaders, and they promise to back him in stopping Juncker. Then Merkel decides it’s not worth the fight, so they all support a massive decision that they all know to be wrong.

Cameron goes home appalled. But as he was to find out, this is how things work. “‘Anyone who says that the EU is an organisation based on law and not politics has never seen it act under pressure,” he records. “Whenever there was pressure to transfer powers to Brussels, the lawyers always found a way, but when I wanted to take powers back, those same lawyers always opposed it.” It is a formula to trap democracies: use complex laws and regulation to suck powers in, but never give them back.” (paywalled link)

As in his book, Cameron makes the point in the TV programme that the Referendum wasn’t about ‘managing’ his Party, about ‘appeasing’ his back benchers. It was about the feedback his MPs received that the public mood about the EU was changing, Nelson writes, and that

“This is how a parliamentary democracy is supposed to work. His book shows him seeking to explain this, to an often baffled EU. So the renegotiation failed.

So many of the disputes come from a basic difference in understanding. “Merkel and others just didn’t see free movement as immigration,” he admits. “If you’re from outside the EU, you’re a migrant.” So how was he going to negotiate a solution, if his counterparts could not understand the problem?

Dealing with their officials, he says, was even worse. “To them, I was a dangerous heretic stamping on their sacred texts.” He records with amazement how the Germans (and others) saw the EU as the fount of democracy, where Brits only ever wanted a forum for economic co-operation.” (paywalled link)

Well, sorry, Mr Cameron – shouldn’t you have known, as PM, that the EU was always about becoming a federal ‘state’? After all, we Leave voters knew! As in the BBC piece, so in the book: I kept wondering if Cameron wasn’t rather naive, at the very least, plodding on with his aim to ‘change’ the EU from the inside. Nelson continues:

“He [Cameron] once invited me to a dinner where he was talking tactics with Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, about the urgent need to reform. In the book, he records how even Rutte abandoned him over Juncker’s appointment. But you can see why. Who wants to fight with the mighty EU? Cameron never quite explains why, after so many losses, he thought he might win.

Or why he backed Remain. There is almost nothing in those 700 pages to explain why EU membership is a good thing. There is not a single example of anything emanating from Brussels that benefits Britain. So why does he start to talk about Britain’s future being in the EU and about it being a fundamental part of who we are as a country? He doesn’t offer a proper explanation himself.” (paywalled link)

Nor, in fact, have any Remainers ever since offered such proper explanation! Fraser Nelson concludes:

“It’s pretty hard to reconcile the calm, rational, patient author of the first 40 chapters of the book with that of the final seven chapters who talks about Brexiteers as careerists, villains and Islamophobes.

But the great value of Cameron’s book is its candour. […] He regards Brexit as a disaster, but those who read his book would be tempted to see it as liberation. A great democracy was being squeezed inside an unaccountable bureaucracy, and no one else in Europe wanted to risk their career by challenging it – or giving voters the chance to escape it. But Cameron did. He might, one day, come to see it as the greatest single service he did his country.” (paywalled link)

In a final twist of the screw, Cameron made an extraordinary appeal to Remainers in the closing minutes of that BBC programme. Here’s the clip. You might like to watch it yourselves. It’s definitely a “say what?” moment.

Will he now throw his weight behind a Johnson ‘Brexit’ and advise the Tory Remainers to get behind such deal? Time will tell …


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