Sunday 18 February 2018

Cameron admits sadness at Brexit result but warns EU over migration

British Prime Minister David Cameron addresses the media in Brussels last night. Getty Images
British Prime Minister David Cameron addresses the media in Brussels last night. Getty Images

Cormac McQuinn, Andrew Woodcock and Sarah Collins

British Prime Minister David Cameron h as described his last ever meeting of EU leaders as a "sad night".

He said he was sorry he had lost Britain's referendum on membership of the EU, but would work with his successor to ensure his country has a strong relationship with other states in the years ahead.

The leaders' meeting ended shortly after 11pm last night, after which Mr Cameron emerged to speak to the media and joked it was "a slightly better attended press conference than some of the ones I've done over the last six years".

Asked if he was wistful about the outcome of the referendum, he replied: "Of course it's a sad night for me because I didn't want to be in this position. I wanted Britain to stay on as a member of the EU."

He said Britain must remain close to Europe in the future.

"That will involve compromises. I don't want to set out what I think they might be. That's going to be a matter for the next prime minister.

"But I think that whether you are listening to young people or businesses or the constituent parts of the United Kingdom or our friends and allies around the world from Bangladesh to New Zealand - all of those countries will want to see Britain have a strong relationship with the European Union," he said.

"We need to make those arguments in our own domestic politics as well as around the chancelleries of Europe. That's something I will certainly do even after I've stopped being prime minister," he added.

Mr Cameron said maintaining a good relationship with EU member states is more important for him than staying on as prime minister.

"At the end of the day you fight for what you believe in, if you win good and if you lose you have to accept the verdict and the verdict I accept is not only that Britain has voted to leave the European Union but that it is right for a fresh leader to come along and take on that challenge of the next chapter in our country's story."

During the meeting, Mr Cameron told EU leaders he lost the referendum because so many voters felt there was no control over immigration from Europe.

And he warned that intransigence over freedom of movement could scupper any chance of a UK-EU trade deal with the new prime minister who takes over from him in September.

Mr Cameron was speaking after German chancellor Angela Merkel warned the UK must accept free movement if it wants to retain access to the single market, as some non-members like Norway do.

Over dinner with fellow leaders, Mr Cameron set out his assessment of the reasons behind the shock 52pc-48pc referendum vote for Brexit.

A source said: "He believes that one of the key issues in the referendum campaign, and therefore why a lot of people voted to leave, is this sense that there was no control on the scale of immigration and freedom of movement."

Mr Cameron's message to EU leaders was that if they want a close economic relationship with the UK after Brexit, they cannot "shy away" from the migration issue.

Meanwhile, German chancellor Angela Merkel said the UK referendum was a "watershed moment" for the bloc and that EU member states would be "guided by our own interests" in future negotiations.

While not issuing any deadlines, she said it was essential for the UK to trigger divorce proceedings under Article 50 of the EU treaty before any progress could be made on a future deal. And French president François Hollande insisted the UK would not get a better deal outside the EU than it did inside it, particularly on curbing European migration.

Irish Independent

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