David Cameron has used his first major speech since resigning in June to explain why he felt people voted for Brexit – and defend his decision to hold the referendum
Mr David Cameron, speaking at DePauw University in Indiana, also spoke of similarities between the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump – and he used his platform in the United States to urge Mr Trump to respect the “incredibly precious” American values of freedom, tolerance and outward-looking policies.
In a wide-ranging address – funded by former students Sharon and Timothy Ubben, who since 1986 have invited Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Benazir Bhutto and Mikhail Gorbachev to speak – the former prime minister warned against being seduced by “so-called strongmen” leaders, such as Vladimir Putin.And he said that he did not think other European countries would follow Britain’s lead and leave the EU – although he had deep fears for the future of the euro.
“It’s kind of you to have this ex prime minister here tonight,” he told the crowd inside the sports hall, 40 miles from Indianapolis. “Because of course, the last time the British had a prime minister my age was about 202 years ago, and that ended up with the British invading North America and burning down the White House.”The audience laughed, as he added: “Watching your politics recently, I wondered whether you might do it yourself.”
On the decision to hold the referendum
Mr David Cameron insisted that he had no regrets in holding the referendum – despite acknowledging that it would be remembered, unfairly in his view, as his lasting legacy for the country.The 50-year-old said told the students and alumni that he felt British politics was becoming “poisoned” by not having had a referendum on the EU for 40 years, despite the EU having changed significantly from when it was founded.
“I believed and I still believe that the fact we hadn’t had a referendum on this issue for 40 years – in spite of the fact that the European Union was changing and changing – was beginning to poison British politics,” he said.“It was certainly poisoning politics in my own party. And I think, more importantly, people were feeling they had been promised a referendum – but people were beginning to get very frustrated about this issue.“In the end, we had to decide.“As we try and build the globalisation that works for all our countries and all our people – as we do that, we have to listen to what people want. And people do want a say on these issues.”
On why Britain voted to leave
Mr David Cameron said that he say the Leave vote as being motivated for economic and cultural reasons.
“We have seen a vast increase in wealth and prosperity, and people in the poorest countries lifted out of poverty through globalisation. But let’s be clear: the rising tide has not lifted all boats. There are many people in our own countries who feel, rightly, economically left behind through globalisation,” he said.“There is a second phenomena: a cultural phenomena. “In some of our countries the pace of change has been too fast for people to keep up with. People are concerned that the country they are living in is not the country they were born into. And they see that change as happening too fast.”
Describing himself as “pro globalisation, pro immigration, pro market economics” he said that leaders needed to understand the calls for change.“The simple truth is this; if we don’t address the problem of those who are economically left behind, we open up our politics to the parties of the extreme left. And if we don’t address the concerns about the pace of cultural change, we open up our politics to the parties of the extreme right.”However, he cited political analysts who had discovered that if people said they were concerned about the changing makeup of Britain, and the fact that it was “going in the wrong direction,” that was a stronger indicator of a Leave vote than if you asked them about their salary.
He said it was now the job for politicians to acknowledge those feelings, and work to resolve them.“If they put their heads in the sand and say this will pass, and we will just carry on the way things are – then 2016 will be seen as a real watershed,” he said.“But if, as I believe will happen, our democracies are flexible enough, and our leaders are aware enough, then they will course correct – as I put it.”
On Brexit and Donald Trump
During the US election campaign, Mr David Cameron, then prime minister, criticised some of Mr Trump’s rhetoric as being “divisive and wrong”.But he acknowledged that his supporters and the Brexit voters shared similar concerns – about being left behind in an increasingly globalised world, and not feeling the benefits of economic successes.“I think the similarities are: we are both successful economies. You have seen in the United States a growth, and a big fall in unemployment – just like you have in the United Kingdom.
“I think that economic concern, that somehow globalisation isn’t working for everybody, was at the heart of the Brexit decision and also a very big issue in your election.“But I don’t think it is enough to explain the results.“If you ask someone in Britain if the country is going in the wrong direction, or if Britain isn’t as great as it used to be, or uncertain about change in your community – that is a better indicator that you’d be a Brexit voter, rather than is your income at this level or that level.“So I would say you need to understand this political phenomenon through both the issues – and that is the same in both situations.”