David Cameron is in Brussels today in an official capacity for the first time since 2016. Back then, he tried—and markedly failed—to agree to major reforms to Britain’s membership in the EU to persuade voters at home to back ‘Remain.’ This time again, he is working to boost ties after expressing his determination to get relations on a better footing.
On his first night as foreign secretary, Cameron—now Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton—looked at ways of boosting foreign aid, much to the dismay of the Conservative Party’s remaining ‘rightist’ elements. Now, in his first full interview on the job, he has put Brussels at the centre of his agenda. Cameron last week told the BBC:
[The EU has to be] a friend, a neighbour, and the best possible partner. When you look at the engagement in Ukraine, that probably is the best example of how it’s worked. There’s no doubt that Britain is the leading European power in helping Ukraine. I heard that over and over again from the president downwards. But we’re doing that in partnership with our European colleagues. So, I think we can make friend, neighbour, and partner work. And I’m determined to do so.
Tory MP Richard Drax responded: “I hope that Lord Cameron’s comments are not in any way reigniting the Brexit debate, because that would be entirely wrong.”
Voters who the Tories are working hardest to appeal to with their rhetoric on immigration and crime are also the most likely to be put off by this shift. So it is unsurprising that the smaller parties, which saw a boost in new memberships following Rishi Sunak’s disastrous reshuffle, are attacking it with full force.
Reform (formerly the Brexit Party) described Cameron’s commitment as a “Brexit betrayal,” adding that Sunak, an alleged Brexiteer, has “totally sold out.” The socially right and economically left-wing Social Democratic Party added that “the nation-state [ought] to be the upper limit of democracy” and joked that it “didn’t take long” for Cameron to set his sights on closer relations.
The response on the continent was mixed. French journalist Marion Van Renterghem described Lord Cameron, whose referendum pulled Britain out of the European Union, as “beyond shame.” But Guy Verhofstadt, who headed the European Parliament’s Brexit committee, said it was “obvious” that London and Brussels should work more closely together.
In fact, few will be surprised to read that Verhofstadt believes Cameron’s vision should extend much further. He asked, “Why not rejoin?! [This would be] the best reply to the autocrats and their pundits in the West who want to divide us and destroy liberal democracy.”
During his time in Brussels, Cameron is expected to meet with Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič, who was responsible for the Brexit deals. One diplomat quoted in The Guardian likened his visit, which will be watched closely both at home and abroad, to a “divorcee returning to the family home.”