Cameron criticises Johnson and May over aid cuts and security oversight

Former PM predicts ‘big inquiry’ into Covid response and defends EU referendum decision

David Cameron has criticised Boris Johnson’s aid cuts and abolition of the Department for International Development, and accused Theresa May of making a “very bad mistake” in merging key cabinet and security roles.

The former prime minister’s criticism of his successors came as he made a rare (virtual) return to parliament, where he told the joint committee on national security strategy (JCNSS) on Monday that he was “sure there will be a big inquiry” into the handling of the Covid pandemic.

Cameron also eagerly mounted a defence of his own much-criticised decision to call the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, and appeared keen to reject suggestions that he had rushed into it, after he was asked whether the move had been part of an overall national strategy.

“It is not as if this was something that was thought up and popped in a manifesto,” he said by video link from his home. “It was properly thought through, discussed, argued, debated, voted on in parliament, put in a manifesto, a government was formed on the basis of that manifesto … I sometimes read about it as if people think it was a sort of afterthought.

“I think it was January 2013, the announcement of holding a referendum before the halfway point of the next parliament was made.”

Appearing as part of the JCNSS inquiry into Britain’s national security machinery, Cameron was particularly critical of May’s decision to merge the role of cabinet secretary and national security adviser. Sir Mark Sedwill held what Cameron described as “two jobs” during May’s tenure.

“For one person, even if you were a cross of Einstein, Wittgenstein and Mother Teresa, you couldn’t possibly do both jobs, and I think that temporarily weakened the national security council,” Cameron told the committee.

On Johnson’s decision to scrap the international development department, Cameron said: “I think abolishing DfID is a mistake too for all sorts of reasons, but one of which is actually having the Foreign Office voice around the [national security council] table and the DfID voice around the table I think is important – they are not necessarily the same thing.

“Can you really expect the foreign secretary to do all of the diplomatic stuff and be able to speak to the development brief as well? That’s quite a task, so I think it is good to have both.

He also repeated his criticism of the government’s announcement last year that it would renege on a commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on official development assistance.

Earlier, Cameron said he believed “a big mistake” had been made by British governments in terms of focusing preparedness for future pandemics on influenza rather than a virus like Covid-19.

“I am sure there will be a big inquiry. There was a pretty big flu pandemic plan but it was a flu plan,” said Cameron, who added that there had also been a “global virus surveillance unit” but he wasn’t sure what had happened to it after he left office.

He recalled what he described as the slow response of the World Health Organization (WHO) to the outbreak of Ebola in west Africa in 2014, when the national infrastructures of states such as the UK, US and France had then “steamed in”.

He agreed that more should have been learned from outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome, caused by the Sars coronavirus.

The SNP MP Angus MacNeil asked Cameron if he ever thought about a comeback, noting that Donald Trump had been talking about standing again for US president.

Cameron ruled the idea out. “Thinking about Donald Trump making a comeback is enough to keep us all spinning over,” he said, adding that he was busy enough working on initiatives in the fields of dementia and Alzheimer’s.


Ben Quinn

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Boris Johnson favourite to replace David Cameron as PM after Brexit
Leave campaign leader heads list which also includes Theresa May, Nicky Morgan, Priti Patel and Dominic Raab

Rowena Mason Political correspondent

24, Jun, 2016 @10:59 AM

Article image
David Cameron heads to Brussels for summit over Brexit vote
Battle lines drawn in Westminster as 1922 Committee fast-tracks process to replace PM and Theresa May emerges as ‘stop Boris’ candidate

Heather Stewart and Rowena Mason

28, Jun, 2016 @6:22 AM

Article image
Be 'muscular' and drive green recovery, Cameron tells Johnson
Free market can be overruled if necessary to create post-Covid growth, ex-PM advises former rival

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent

24, Feb, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
David Cameron to avoid facing Johnson or Gove in Brexit debates
Culture secretary John Whittingdale says ITV should face Ofcom over decision to make Nigel Farage the voice of the leave campaign

Rowena Mason and Anushka Asthana

12, May, 2016 @6:38 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson insists immigration pledge is not bid to oust Cameron
Leave campaigner details plans for ‘Australian-style points-based’ controls to limit numbers coming to Britain from EU

Rowena Mason, Heather Stewart and Anushka Asthana

01, Jun, 2016 @9:00 PM

Article image
PM resists calls to sack Boris Johnson over Brexit remarks
May declares confidence in foreign secretary despite his attack on the Treasury

Jessica Elgot and Matthew Weaver

08, Jun, 2018 @4:57 PM

Article image
Johnson met Cameron for private meeting before Chequers summit
Foreign secretary and ex-PM agree May’s Brexit plans are ‘the worst of all worlds’

Jessica Elgot Political correspondent

06, Jul, 2018 @10:43 AM

Article image
‘Well, that didn't go to plan’: Cameron’s spin doctor on the Brexit vote
In Craig Oliver’s insider account of the referendum Theresa May is exasperatingly Sphinx-like and Boris Johnson wobbles

Alice Ross

25, Sep, 2016 @3:13 PM

Article image
Hey-ho, hey-ho, Snow White's conference dwarves get to work | John Crace
Grumpy David Davis, dopey Priti Patel and happy Boris Johnson knew all the right words to the Brexit fairy tale, but where was Smarmy?

John Crace

02, Oct, 2016 @7:07 PM

Article image
Farron: Cameron assured me terror funding report would be published
Saying Theresa May personally approved inquiry as home secretary, Lib Dem leader urges her: ‘Stop hiding, publish the report’

Jessica Elgot

05, Jun, 2017 @3:07 PM