David Cameron Interview Recap

Sep 29, 2019
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we're going to turn to NPR's London correspondent, Frank Langfitt, who was listening to our conversation with former U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron. Frank, thank you so much for listening and being here.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: So what struck you about what former Prime Minister David Cameron said? Anything in particular jump out at you?

LANGFITT: You know, I think I'm really glad that you brought up that polling data from - in advance of the referendum because, as you pointed, out among the ordinary people here, Europe was not that big an issue. And I think that that frankly undermines the argument of the former prime minister, that this wasn't really about healing, basically, getting past a civil war in his own party and staying in power. And most people here in the United Kingdom feel that, really, this was a case of putting party over country. And that's one reason why I think people are still quite bitter about the decision to call the referendum and then in fact lose it. So I think that most people here - if you talk to them, they do have a really very negative image of the prime minister.

Sixty percent - the last polling I've seen from the YouGov polling firm, 60% view him, negatively. And it's going to take quite some time I think for those numbers to kind of recover. People don't blame all of Brexit on him at all. There are a lot of other mistakes that were made after the referendum. But I think that, looking back, people felt the referendum was reckless - a reckless decision and also was, primarily, something done for his own party.

MARTIN: And it's been a very fractious and intense week in U.S. politics. So I'm wondering - I'm thinking perhaps Americans might have missed some of what's gone on in Parliament there. Can you just bring us up to date?

LANGFITT: Yeah, I'd be happy to. It's been - and it always feels like - every time we talk, I feel like another extraordinary week in British politics, but it absolutely was true. If you talk to people - members of Parliament last week, they would say it was one of the worst days in many decades. Incredibly toxic rhetoric and people yelling at each other in a way they don't normally do.

And a lot of this was Boris Johnson's rhetoric. He basically was talking about - when he was attacking his opponents, saying they were supporting a surrender bill to Brussels, saying they were sabotaging Brexit, using this sort of very strong language and so much so that other - that members of the Labour Party, who disagree with what Johnson's doing, got up, were very angry with him. This - I want to play a kind of tape here from Paula Sherriff. She's a legislator with the Labour Party. And this is how she warned Johnson just last weekend in the House of Commons.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAULA SHERRIFF: With many of us in this place subject to death threats and abuse every single day. And let me tell the prime minister that they often quote his words - Surrender Act, betrayal, traitor. And I for one am sick of it.

LANGFITT: And, Michel, what was remarkable is Johnson responded to this and said that he thought this was all humbug. And this was also after people had cited that, just before the referendum in 2016, a legislator named Jo Cox was murdered by a far-right extremist amidst that very heavy rhetoric back then. So a lot of anger towards Boris Johnson and, really, one of - certainly, the worst time that - the worst week I've seen in the Houses of Parliament since I got here 3 1/2 years ago.

MARTIN: Frank, very briefly, if you can, the Conservative Party conference started today. Boris Johnson is scheduled to speak later in the week. Give us a sense of what you'll be watching for.

LANGFITT: Well, I think he's going to try to come out of there with a lot of energy. But, of course, he got beat up by the U.K. Supreme Court, which said his decision to suspend Parliament was illegal. And he doesn't have a deal to come back with from Brussels. And he - as David Cameron just pointed out, he's far from any kind of majority. So even if he got a deal, it's unclear how he'd possibly get it through. So I think it's going to be a tumultuous few days up in Manchester, and I'm heading up there tomorrow.

MARTIN: That is NPR's London correspondent, Frank Langfitt. Frank, thank you so much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.