He Was Booed, Now Bidding Farewell to Downing Street: David Cameron's Last 72 hours as Prime Minister
David Cameron will make his last appearance at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday before formally resigning the premiership in his last official meeting with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
“We will have a new prime minister in that building behind me by Wednesday evening,” Mr Cameron said in a brusque statement before the black door of No 10 Downing Street, which has been his office and home for six years and two months.
The timetable that will allow Mr Cameron to chair his final Cabinet meeting on Tuesday and bid farewell to the House of Commons on Wednesday was hastily agreed between Tory officials yesterday.
Theoretically Theresa May could have been sworn in as prime minister on Tuesday, although that might have required her and Mr Cameron to make a trip to Sandringham in Norfolk to see the monarch.
Instead, officials including Lord Feldman, the Conservative chairman and a close friend of Mr Cameron, agreed to prolong his premiership for a few more hours, allowing him to receive what is traditionally a generous Commons tribute from MPs.
Despite that last-minute extension, Mr Cameron’s departure from Downing Street will still come much sooner than he had expected or wanted, and dashes his hopes of defining his political legacy during a relatively long and leisurely last few months in office.
Mr Cameron announced his intention to resign hours after the EU referendum result was announced in the early hours of June 24, suggesting that he would stay in No 10 until early October.
Some colleagues had suggested he was trying “hang on” to office as long as possible, but he is now expected to move his family out of their Downing Street flat before the end of the week.
So sudden is the departure that the Camerons will be unable to move back into their house in North Kensington, because it is being rented out.
Instead, they may have to be based in their cottage in his Oxfordshire constituency, which he has said he will continue to represent in the Commons at least until the next general election.
One senior party source said Mr Cameron has been “desperate” to ensure a slow and dignified departure from Downing Street, trying to delay the appointment of his successor as Conservative leader to give him more time to make high-profile official appearances shape his legacy and influence the nature of Britain’s break with the EU.
Being booed by the Centre Court crowd at Wimbledon on Sunday was a harsh reminder for Mr Cameron of how his failure in the acrimonious Brexit referendum could easily define his place in history.
But the Prime Minister started his day on Monday confident that he still had almost two months to spend changing the way people will remember his premiership.
Yesterday, he had expected relatively low-key engagements including a trip to the Farnborough Air Show in Surrey, where he attempted to intervene in the Conservative debate about precisely how Britain should leave the EU
Many Conservatives who voted Leave are concerned that pro-Remain politicians in Parliament will attempt to promote an exit deal that leaves Britain with several vital aspects of EU membership, probably participating in the EU single market in exchange for continuing to accept EU migrants largely without restriction.
Addressing aerospace executives, some of whom had expressed worries about the effect of Brexit on their businesses, Mr Cameron made an appeal for Britain to keep a very close relationship with the EU.
“There is a huge amount of work to do, complex issues to understand and crack, a negotiating mandate to draw up, and the big, strategic decisions are for the next Prime Minister. But the groundwork is underway,” he said.
“All I would say about the outcome is this: I believe it is in our fundamental national and economic interests to remain very close to the European Union, for trade, for business, for security, for cooperation. So let that be our goal.”
As he delivered those words, Mr Cameron had little idea that the next Prime Minister to whom he referred would be in place – his place – barely 72 hours later.
But as the Prime Minister prepared to leave the air show and return to London, it became apparent that Andrea Leadsom had decided to withdraw from the race to succeed Mr Cameron, leaving Theresa May as the only candidate.
Although Mr Cameron had not declared his position publicly, he was actively backing Mrs May to win the contest – but not yet.