David Cameron only offered the EU referendum because he believed Lib Dems would stop it

Will Metcalfe

David Cameron only promised the European referendum because he expected to be in coalition with the Lib Dems – who he thought would block the vote, Donald Tusk has claimed.

A new BBC documentary series, Inside Europe: Ten Years of Turmoil is set to reveal Mr Cameron was warned that his “stupid referendum” about Britain’s EU membership could end in personal disaster.

And Mr Tusk, the serving European Council president has revealed Mr Cameron confided that he only promised the 2016 vote because he expected to be in another coalition with the Lib Dems, who would veto it.

The BBC documentary series, due to be broadcast on January 28, features interviews with a broad swathe of political figures from all sides of Brexit, including former chancellor George Osborne, ex-foreign secretary William Hague, president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and former French presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande.

Donald Tusk, right, has revealed David Cameron confided he offered the 2016 referendum in the belief he would be in a coalition government with the Lib Dems who he thought would block the move. (PA)

Mr Cameron, who quit as prime minister in 2016 after leading the failed remain campaign, was the main notable figure not to take part.

The producers said on Monday that he declined because he has signed an exclusive deal for his memoirs.

Mr Tusk said he warned the PM there was “no appetite for revolution”, adding: “I asked David Cameron, ‘Why did you decide on this referendum, this – it’s so dangerous, so, even, stupid, you know’.

“He told me – and I was really amazed and even shocked – that the only reason was his own party. [He told me] he felt really safe, because he thought at the same time that there’s no risk of a referendum, because, his coalition partner, the Liberals, would block this idea of a referendum.

“But then, surprisingly, he won and there was no coalition partner. So paradoxically David Cameron became the real victim of his own victory.”

Donald Tusk has, left, revealed David Cameron confided he offered the 2016 referendum in the belief he would be in a coalition government with the Lib Dems who he thought would block the move. (PA)

Mr Tusk added that after the referendum he agreed with Mr Cameron’s decision to step down as PM, adding: “It was like his day of reckoning was coming, reckoning for his biggest mistake in his life.”

The series also talked to other key figures of the years leading up to the Brexit vote, including Nick Clegg, the UK’s then EU ambassador Sir Ivan Rogers, and Mr Cameron’s director of communications Craig Oliver.

There are also appearances from Brexiteers including Douglas Carswell, who quit the Tories to become Ukip’s first MP in 2014, and his fellow Eurosceptic, the Tory MEP Daniel Hannan.

They give accounts from all sides of the Brexit battle in the first episode of the series, We Quit.

The decision to hold the EU referendum has blighted David Cameron’s political legacy and led to widespread protests. Stock image. (PA)

The further two episodes will look at the Greek financial meltdown and the Syrian migrant crisis.

Mr Cameron was also warned about his strong-arm negotiating tactics by the two French presidents who served during his time at Number 10, the programme revealed.

Mr Sarkozy revealed how he warned Mr Cameron about his attempt at strong-arm tactics with EU leaders over concessions on migrant rules and integration, telling him: “If you try to break our arm, you’ll get nothing.”

And Mr Hollande revealed that during a visit to Chequers in 2015 he tried to talk the Tory leader out of holding the referendum.

Mr Oliver, a former BBC executive, told how Mr Cameron raised the Second World War in a chat with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, during a break in migrant talks in 2016.

The PR man said Mrs Merkel arrived with little notice at the UK delegation’s rooms looking like “she was finally ready to do businesses and she had really focused on this”.

Mr Oliver went on: “David Cameron said to her, ‘Look unless you can actually give me what I am asking for, if it is perceived that we are watering this down yet again then I’m just going to face a barrage of criticism and it is going to be a really serious problem’.

“At that moment Angela Merkel turned to her aide and said ‘what is barrage?’ And David Cameron immediately jumped in and said ‘blitzkrieg’.”

Theresa May also declined to take part in the programme, but faced criticism on screen from an old adversary, George Osborne, whom she sacked as chancellor.

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