Ex-UK PM David Cameron calls Brexit ‘a mistake, not a disaster’ in unguarded Davos comments

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 January, 2018, 6:10am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 January, 2018, 6:15am

Britain’s planned departure from the European Union is “a mistake, not a disaster”, former premier David Cameron said in unguarded comments during a conversation caught on camera in Davos on Wednesday.

Cameron stepped back from frontline British politics in the wake of the historic 2016 referendum, but was caught airing his views on Brexit at Switzerland’s gathering of the world’s business elite.

The former prime minister said leaving the EU had not been as catastrophic as predicted. Speaking to the steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal, Cameron said the process of leaving the EU was “still going to be difficult”. 

In footage from Channel 5 News, Mittal told Cameron he had heard “everyone is talking about Brexit”. 

“Yes, well I know,” Cameron replied. “It’s frustrating. As I keep saying it’s a mistake, not a disaster. It’s turned out less badly than we first thought.”

“But it’s still going to be difficult,” he added. 

Cameron orchestrated the vote on June 23, 2016, in which the country chose to leave the EU, despite himself backing the campaign to remain in the bloc. 

He stepped down as prime minister the morning after the referendum, leaving his successor Theresa May to enter fraught EU negotiations with a cabinet divided on Brexit lines.

Britain has said it will leave the union on March 29, 2019, and after reaching an initial agreement on exit terms is due to enter further talks on its future relationship with Brussels later this year.

Cameron’s comments are likely to provoke some enjoyment from Brexit-backing former colleagues. As prime minister, he described a leave vote in the referendum as “the gamble of the century” for the predicted economic impact of leaving the EU. 

The former UKIP leader Nigel Farage tweeted the video of Cameron caught on camera, with the caption: “Busted.” 

Brexit bill approved by UK government – but concerns about it remain high

It is not the first time Cameron has been accidentally caught on broadcast microphones being indiscreet. 

In 2015, ahead of a speech in Leeds on regional devolution, the then-prime minister joked: “We just thought people in Yorkshire hated everyone else, we didn’t realise they hated each other so much.” 

The previous year, Cameron was forced to apologise to the queen after being recorded telling the former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg that she “purred down the line” when he informed her that Scotland had voted against independence. 

Cameron is attending the meeting of global financial leaders in the Swiss ski resort this week, where Theresa May is set to meet Donald Trump. Trump will be the first sitting US president to attend in person since Bill Clinton in 2000.