David Cameron never really believed he'd have to hold a Brexit referendum, says Donald Tusk 3 years ago

David Cameron never really believed he'd have to hold a Brexit referendum, says Donald Tusk

The prime minister's surprise 2015 election victory was the major catalyst in Brexit actually happening

The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has spoken out about David Cameron's apparent complacency at the prospect of actually holding a Brexit referendum, after he had promised one to voters.


Ahead of the 2015 general election, the British prime minister promised to hold a public vote on the matter having seen Nigel Farage and UKIP surge into prominence, reigniting historic divisions among the Conservative Party over Europe.

Fearing that the UK could vote to leave the European Union, Tusk pressed Cameron on exactly what he hoped to achieve once his plans were announced.

"I asked David Cameron: 'Why did you decide on this referendum? It's so dangerous, or even stupid, you know?'," Tusk recalls in the upcoming BBC programme Inside Europe: Ten Years of Turmoil.


"And he told me and I was really amazed, and even shocked. That the only reason was his own party, the Tories, and that he felt really safe because he thought at the same time that there was no risk of a referendum.

"Because his coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, would block his idea of a referendum. But then, surprisingly, he won and there was no coalition partner.

"Paradoxically, David Cameron became the real victim of his own victory."

Last week, after current PM Theresa May lost a major parliamentary vote on her Brexit withdrawal agreement, Cameron made a rare public appearance addressing his decision to hold the vote in 2016.


"I don't regret calling a referendum," he said. "Obviously I deeply regret losing the referendum, and obviously I regret the difficulties and the problems that we have been having trying to implement the result."

Tusk's recollection of events has been refuted by Craig Oliver, Cameron's former Downing Street director of communications, who believes that the Lib Dems would have been unable to prevent a referendum were they called upon for another coalition government.