Regretful David Cameron says he is 'sorry about the state the country's got into' after EU referendum

  • Video report by ITV News Presenter Tom Bradby

Former prime minister David Cameron has said he does not regret calling the EU referendum in 2016, but does feel some responsibility for "the state the country has got into" since the vote.

In his first in-depth television interview about his time in office - which will be broadcast on ITV on Monday at 8pm - Mr Cameron told Tom Bradby the referendum haunts him and he thinks about it every day, but insisted holding it was the "right thing to do".

He said he advises new Prime Minister Boris Johnson "from time to time" – despite the PM recently referring to him as a "girly swot" – and thinks the suspension of Parliament looked like "rather sharp practice of trying to restrict the debate" and was wrong.

But ahead of Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling on the legality of proroguing Parliament – after Scotland’s highest civil court ruled it was "unlawful" – Mr Cameron said he thinks the PM acted within the law.

He added the decision to suspend Parliament was a "mistake" and "probably counterproductive", but said it was for the courts to decide if it was legal.

He also said "taking the whip away from 21 incredibly hard-working, loyal Conservatives" was a "bad decision" and said if it isn’t reversed it will become a "disastrous decision".

In the interview, Mr Cameron was asked about domestic and foreign policy, the death of his son Ivan, and whether he would consider a return to frontline politics.

Referendum regrets

Mr Cameron claimed the referendum was "inevitable" but doesn’t accept "that everything that has followed had to follow".

He appeared to accept the suggestion that the political deadlock is a result of his decision to hold the referendum.

"Do I have regrets? Yes," he said. "Am I sorry about the state the country’s got into? Yes. Do I feel I have some responsibility for that? Yes. It was my referendum; my campaign; my decision to try and renegotiate."

David Cameron spoke to Tom Bradby at length about his time in power. Credit: ITV

"And I accept all of those things and people, including those watching this programme, will have to decide how much blame to put on me."

He claimed Mr Johnson’s support of Leave in the EU referendum was disingenuous, saying: "He thought that the Brexit vote would be lost but he didn’t want to give up the chance of being on the romantic, patriotic, nationalistic side."

The former prime minister said Mr Johnson texted him shortly before declaring his Brexit stance to the public, saying: "Brexit will be crushed like a toad under the harrow."

Mr Cameron added: "I can only conclude that - he’d never argued for it before; he thought it was going to lose and that’s why he made the choice."

And on Michael Gove, Mr Johnson’s Vote Leave campaigning partner, Mr Cameron said he was "very distressed" when his long-time friend informed him of his referendum intentions.

He said he knew Mr Gove was a "very long-standing Eurosceptic" but seemed on the fence regarding the referendum.

"He seemed in two minds about it and I thought, if he’s in two minds, surely stick with the team and the programme and the government and the work that we’re doing together."

But he said after revealing which way he would campaign, Mr Gove "went from this liberal, modern, compassionate Conservative to something quite different".

The prime minister and Mr Gove declined to comment to the Tonight programme.

However, in a later statement, Mr Johnson told ITV News: "Nothing that David Cameron says in his memoirs will diminish the affection and respect in which I hold him."

On the division in the country around Brexit, Mr Cameron said: "I regret hugely where we have come to and I take my share of responsibility for that."

'Austerity was necessary'

Upon taking office as prime minister, Mr Cameron embarked on huge cutbacks in public spending.

Many blamed the rise in homelessness and food bank usage on the policy, but Mr Cameron said austerity was "necessary" in order to balance the country’s finances.

He said: "The cuts were very difficult to make and there were lots of very difficult decisions and I’m not sure we got all of them right, but I’ve never wavered in the belief that it was necessary to make difficult decisions."

'I blame myself over UK not joining Syria airstrikes'

In 2013 Mr Cameron became the first British prime minister to lose a vote on a major issue of foreign policy when the Commons decided the UK should not join US-led airstrikes on Syria.

His call for military action followed a suspected chemical weapons attack, believed to have been carried out by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against his own people. The leader denies the accusation.

After watching what appeared to be evidence of chemical weapons in Syria, Mr Cameron said "the sight of the children laid out in rows" made him think of his late son Ivan, and he thought "we’ve got to act".

He and then-US President Barack Obama had already discussed the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a "red line" and as a result of that conversation he thought the pair would "get together and act".

David Cameron said he shared blame for Britain not joining US-led airstrikes on Syria. Credit: ITV

But Mr Obama took four days to return Mr Cameron’s calls.

Mr Cameron said that was “far too long” but they eventually spoke and agreed a plan.

He then made a passionate speech to Parliament, arguing that military intervention was necessary but MPs voted not to back airstrikes.

He believes he lost the vote because MPs were "traumatised by what had happened in Iraq" and didn’t want to repeat history.

"I lost that vote," he said. "The first time a prime minister had lost a vote in the House of Commons on a major issue of foreign policy and you know, I have to - look I blame the people who voted against me, obviously, but I also blame myself."

The death of his son Ivan

David Cameron and wife Samantha and children, Ivan, Nancy and Arthur Elwen, seen in 2007. Credit: PA

Mr Cameron spoke about his son Ivan, who had a rare neurological disorder and died in 2009 aged six.

"I think the difficult thing was that he ... he suffered so much," he said.

"He sometimes would have, you know, 20, 30, 40 seizures in a day that when I think about it a lot, you do go back to the incredibly painful and difficult times that he had."

But Mr Cameron said, after months of mourning, happy memories of his son began to come back and now, when reflecting, he says he feels "incredibly blessed" to have been charged with "looking after someone so special".

Will he return to frontline politics?

In a short answer, the former PM does not see himself returning to frontline politics.

But he said he would always help with an issue if asked by a prime minister.

"I’ll always, you know, want to help. I love this country. I care passionately about what happens," he said.

"But I think the idea of going back to frontline politics is not going to happen, nor should it."

The Cameron Interview is on the ITV Hub