The former PM blew any remaining goodwill between Britain and Europe long before we triggered Article 50by Matthew Bevington / August 10, 2018 / Leave a comment
Since he resigned after the European Union referendum, there have been accusations levelled at David Cameron from all sides of the Brexit debate. For Remainers, his calling the referendum in the first place, seen mostly as an attempt to ease internal party tensions, was an unforgiveable gamble. For Leavers, his direction to the civil service forbidding preparations for leaving the EU was contemptible.
Still discussed, but far less widely, is the parlous state in which he left UK-EU relations. Many of the difficulties Theresa May has been up against in the Brexit talks stem in part from Cameron’s tenure and the personal damage he did to trust and goodwill. By the time the European Council came to draft their negotiating guidelines, the UK was a counterpart to be suspicious of and seen as a potentially highly disruptive force that needed to be treated with short shrift.
Three examples are illustrative.
First, in his Conservative leadership bid in 2005, Cameron promised to pull the party out of the EPP—the main centre-right political grouping in the European parliament. This was thought to be a relatively cost-free promise that would appease Conservatives on Cameron’s right.
But it was a miscalculation. The decision alienated him from key EU allies on the centre-right, including Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy (as well as Jean-Claude Juncker), some of whom would play a central role in his attempted renegotiation. Cameron unnecessarily burned political capital for little perceptible domestic gain.
Further damage was done by Cameron’s pledge in the 2015 Conservative manifesto to bring forward a British Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act and “break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights.” Ostensibly, this was not an anti-EU move given the ECHR is not an EU body. However, it is an important placeholder for shared rights commitments in the EU.
At the very least, this pledge—undoubtedly supported by Theresa May as Home Secretary—raised suspicions in the EU about the UK’s human rights commitments. This has had a direct impact in the Brexit talks. The Commission’s recent negotiating slides on internal security propose on any future security treaty that “if the UK leaves the Convention or is condemned by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)” the agreement would be voided, effectively attempting to bind the UK into the…