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UK: David Cameron returns to government as foreign secretary

November 13, 2023

In a shock move, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has brought one of his predecessors back into government, in a reshuffle that also saw him sack his home secretary, Suella Braverman.

Former British Prime Minister David Cameron walks outside 10 Downing Street
Former Prime Minister David Cameron has been made British Foreign Secretary, as well as a Lord, enabling him to sit in the British's Parliament's upper house.Image: Suzanne Plunkett/REUTERS

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak began a Cabinet reshuffle on Monday, which saw former Prime Minister David Cameron return to goverment.

Cameron replaced former Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, who in turn replaced Suella Braverman after she was sacked as home secretary.

David Cameron appointed UK foreign secretary

Braverman caused controversy last week after penning an article in The Times in which she described "pro-Palestinian mobs" as "disturbingly reminscent" of scenes during the height of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Her comments have been criticized as having stoked tension ahead of a pro-Palestinian march in London on Saturday, November 11, the UK's Remembrance Day, which also saw violent scenes involving far-right protesters.

What did Cameron say? 

The former prime minister recently made headlines when he publicly criticized Sunak's decision to scrap the Birmingham-Manchester leg of a high-speed rail project known as HS2.

"Though I may have disagreed with some individual decisions, it is clear to me that Rishi Sunak is a strong and capable Prime Minister, who is showing exemplary leadership at a difficult time," Cameron wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, confirming his appointment.

"We are facing a daunting set of international challenges, including the war in Ukraine and the crisis in the Middle East. At this time of profound global change, it has rarely been more important for this country to stand by our allies, strengthen our partnerships and make sure our voice is heard."

"I know it's not usual for a prime minister to come back in this way," Cameron told broadcasters later. "But I believe in public service."

"I hope that six years as prime minister, 11 years leading the Conservative Party, gives me some useful experience and contacts and relationships and knowledge that I can help the prime minister to make sure we build our alliances, we build partnerships with our friends, we deter our enemies and we keep our country strong," Cameron said.

Cameron and Blinken discuss Israel, Ukraine and China

Later on Monday, Cameron and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the Israel-Hamas conflict, relations with China and help for Ukraine during a telephone call, the State Department said.

"Secretary Blinken and Lord Cameron underscored continuity in the US-UK special relationship and its importance to regional and global security," State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a readout of the conversation.

Who is David Cameron?

Associated more with the center of the Conservative Party, Cameron was party leader from 2005 to 2016 and prime minister from 2010-2016, the youngest person to hold the office since 1812.

He resigned in disgrace after calling and losing the 2016 referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union, ushering in a tumultuous period in British politics which has seen the Conservative Party lurch further to the populist right.

After leaving the British government in 2016, Cameron was implicated in the "Greensill scandal" after it was reported by the Financial Times and The Sunday Times that he had lobbied the then chancellor of the exchequer — the British finance minister — Sunak to allow struggling financial services company Greensill Capital to access pandemic-related government support in 2021.

Three separate inquiries found that Cameron had not broken any lobbying rules, nor had he acted unlawfully.

Outside the UK, Cameron has also been associated with Chinese interests in the Indo-Pacific, notably championing the controversial multi-billion-dollar Colombo Port City project in Sri Lanka, part of Chinese President Xi Jinping's Belt and Road Initiative, as reported by Politico last month.

It was possible for Sunak to make Cameron foreign minister because he was also appointed as a member of the unelected upper chamber of parliament, the House of Lords, in the UK. 

How has the political world reacted?

Cameron's appointment raised eyebrows across the European Union, but the general feeling is that the return of the man who triggered the Brexit referendum represents a continued defrosting of relations rather than a lurch back to turbulent times of the Brexit debates.

"Welcome back David Cameron," Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, while the French, German, Dutch and Irish foreign ministers also sent online congratulations.

One EU diplomat said it was a sign of a continued normalizing of EU-UK relations that the new foreign minister was not an ardent Brexiteer.

"Let's hope this is a consolidation of pragmatism over ideology in our relations," the diplomat told the French AFP news agency. "Regardless of past mistakes, this might be a good thing."

But not everyone was pleased, with Katarina Barley, the vice president of the European Parliament, leveling harsh criticism at Sunak for his decision, saying: "Rather than calling urgently needed new elections, Sunak has instead brought a failed ex-prime minister back into the government. More than anything, this appointment underscores the turbulence within the Conservative party." 

Barley, a German-British dual national, said it was, "particularly ironic that Sunak chose the man who initiated the chaos of Brexit" to lend an air of seriousness to his government.

Who is Suella Braverman?

A key figure on the right wing of the UK's ruling Conservative Party, Braverman was a committed Brexiteer who has also made headlines for her plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda — a proposal that was ruled unlawful by multiple courts.

"It has been the greatest privilege of my life to serve as home secretary," said Braverman, according to the BBC. "I will have more to say in due course."

Braverman had resigned as home secretary in September 2022 during the short premiership of Liz Truss, after sending official documents from her personal email address. Sunak reinstated her six days later.

Considered to be a favorite for party leader among the right of the Conservative Party, she made headlines with extreme remarks on immigration and a recent description of homelessness as a "lifestyle choice."

mf/rt (AFP, dpa, AP)