David Cameron says EU referendum ended the 'poisoning' of British politics

Ben Kentish

David Cameron has defended his decision to call a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, insisting the vote has ended the “poisoning” of British politics.

The former Prime Minister was speaking during a tourism industry conference in Bangkok, one of only a handful of public appearances he has made since leaving office last June.

He admitted he regretted the impact of the referendum on his own career but insisted that holding the poll was the right decision.

“Obviously I regret the personal consequences for me”, he said “I loved being prime minister. I thought I was doing a reasonable job.

“But I think it was the right thing. The lack of a referendum was poisoning British politics and so I put that right.”

The previous lack of a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU had been a “legitimate cause of populist concern”, Mr Cameron said, adding: “And yet in spite of the fact that the British people were occasionally offered a referendum by their leaders, most famously by Tony Blair, they never got a referendum.

“If you want to address the causes of populism, it was necessary, in my view, to have a referendum.”

Mr Cameron’s claim that the referendum has ended the “poisoning” of British politics is likely to be refuted by critics who say the country is more divided than ever following the Brexit vote.

Since the referendum, there has been a rise in reported incidents of hate crime and a number of attacks on migrants, which some commentators have linked to the anti-immigration rhetoric espoused by the Leave campaign.

Speaking at the conference, Mr Cameron also praised his successor, Theresa May, for the way in which the Conservative Party, under her leadership, has embraced the result of the referendum.

The Tories had “accepted the referendum result and got on with the process and responsibly delivering it, it is probably the most healthy mainstream political party anywhere in western Europe”, he said.

“It’s very good that we are having this election, because I think if Theresa May is successful, she’ll actually have a larger majority and, potentially, more time to deal with Brexit and its consequences.”

Mr Cameron also told delegates at the World Travel and Tourism Council summit that Islamist extremism was “the biggest threat to our world” and warned that Donald Trump’s ban on immigration to the US from six mainly-Muslim countries could play into the hands of extremists.

“It would be seen, could be seen, as labelling whole countries as extreme and dangerous because they were predominantly Islamic”, he said. “It’s not a clash between civilisations that we face. That is what the extremists want us to think. This is, if you like, a war within Islam.”