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David Cameron: Is a second referendum the answer?

With the former Prime Minister set to release his memoirs ‘For the Record’ on September 19th, David Cameron has branded the behaviour of his Leave-voting colleagues as appalling.

His new book, which details several items including his reasons for leaving office, has told the Times that Boris Johnson and Michael Gove acted ‘appallingly’ during the EU referendum campaign. He has heavily criticised Johnson’s recent decisions aimed at dealing with the Brexit crisis, including proroguing Parliament and the removal of the whip from 21 MPs.

Cameron has said that he thinks about the referendum result ‘every single day’ and worries ‘desperately’ about what could happen next in the current stream of events. He accuses Leave MPs of ‘trashing government’ by using a ‘very powerful emotional argument’ in comparison to Remain’s ‘very strong technical and economic arguments’. He also further stated that ‘some people will never forgive me’ for offering the referendum in the Conservative manifesto during the 2015 General Election.

A second referendum?

Mr Cameron has warned the current government that a second referendum should not be ruled out but that the decision to block no-deal would also negatively affect Boris Johnson’s negotiations with the EU.

However, Mr Cameron’s comments have not been completely welcomed by his former colleagues and openly analysed by members of the media. After calling the events surrounding Brexit a ‘terrible Tory psychodrama’ Conservative cabinet member Lord Lilley said that the 17.4 million people who voted to leave ‘didn’t care a fig about Tory psychodrama or anything' and described Cameron’s comments as ‘an extraordinary Westminster bubble phrase’. When speaking to BBC Newsnight Lilley also called out Cameron by quoting Mr Cameron’s vow before the referendum that the public would make the decision surrounding EU membership but that ‘now he’s saying different things’.

Furthermore, analysis of Mr Cameron’s memoirs made by John Rentoul from The Independent says that Cameron failed because he stuck to what he believed in, saying ‘He could fall back on no layers of ambiguity to conceal the sudden destruction of his reputation’ and that although an honest acceptance of his failure, Cameron did ‘run away’ from his defeat. However, Rentoul also argues that it wasn’t Cameron’s fault that the UK voted to leave (and supposedly as a result, the current series of events are not accountable to him either). Rentoul describes ‘an element of party-political calculation in his promise of a referendum’, something not out of the ordinary when it comes to an election, and recognises how Cameron did think that Remain had a greater chance of winning. It is possible our politics today could be widely different if a referendum was not promised at the 2015 election, with many Leave voters heading towards UKIP and many other voters potentially putting Ed Milliband in Number 10.

It is however possible from Rentoul’s analysis that Cameron is now seeking peace in his miscalculation and potentially not ‘saying different’ things as put forward by Lord Lilley. Cameron promised the referendum expecting Remain to win and therefore what the people wanted. Instead he got the opposite and unpredictable mayhem, which he sees almost as his own fault, using the stance of a second referendum to heal the wounds of his mistakes while attempting to reunite the public.  

On the other hand, Lord Lilley could be right, and many have said that a second referendum would split the public further, creating a circular effect. David Cameron did lead on the Remain campaign and was passionate about staying in the EU while influencing its reformation. Cameron could potentially be another Remain politician trying to stop Brexit.

Overall, the only way a second referendum would be called is if Parliament voted for another referendum. However, with the government and Conservatives backing Brexit, deal or no-deal, the likelihood of this seems low unless a snap General Election is called by the Prime Minister. There is also the likelihood that many would vote leave again in defiance of MPs ignoring their vote on the previous referendum. Either way David Cameron is both a man in defence of his mistakes and a rebel against the current government.

Photo by Elliott Stallion on Unsplash

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