Former British Prime Minister David Cameron has made a surprise return to government as the United Kingdom’s foreign secretary, following a Cabinet reshuffle and a weekend of violent protests and political chaos in London.
He succeeds James Cleverly, who now becomes Britain’s new home secretary after the incumbent Suella Braverman was fired Monday by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
The 57-year-old Cameron is no longer an elected lawmaker. Instead, Sunak nominated him as a peer who will sit in the House of Lords, Britain’s unelected upper chamber.
Cameron resigned as prime minister in June 2016 after Britain voted to leave the European Union in a referendum called Brexit for which he legislated. He campaigned to stay in the EU, but voters chose to leave by a margin of 52% to 48%.
A recent poll taken in July found that 45% of Britons believed Cameron had changed Britain for the worse, versus 29% who thought he had changed it for the better.
Cameron said in an interview after his appointment as foreign secretary that he felt a dedication to public office.
“The prime minister asked me to do this job, and it's a time where we have some daunting challenges as a country: the conflict in the Middle East, the war in Ukraine,” Cameron said.
“And of course, 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,” he said.
The Israel-Hamas war rages on, after an October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel that killed more than 1,200 people and saw 240 hostages taken from Israel into Gaza by Hamas militants.
Palestinian health authorities said that more than 11,000 civilians, more than half of them women and children, have been killed by Israel’s bombardment and ground assault on the Gaza Strip, home to 2.3 million people.
As prime minister in 2010, Cameron called the Gaza Strip “a prison camp” and criticized Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank, although he maintained Britain’s close alliance with Tel Aviv.
“It's going to be very hard for David Cameron to jump back in as foreign secretary,” said Bronwen Maddox, director of the British policy institute Chatham House.
“In the Middle East, some of the conflicts have not changed. David Cameron is remembered for intervention in Libya, which was not the greatest success. And in Europe, while he was a ‘remainer,’ he triggered the [Brexit] referendum — some think too casually — which led to Britain leaving the EU and changed all its relations not only with Europe but with many other countries as a consequence,” Maddox told Reuters.
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Cameron’s appointment is unlikely to change Britain’s foreign policy, said Anand Menon, a professor of European politics at King’s College London and director of the UK in a Changing Europe initiative.
“British foreign policy has been relatively consistent over the last few years and benefits from broad cross-party consensus. So, I don’t think there’s a question of changing foreign policy,” Menon told VOA. “I think this is largely signaling to a domestic audience, and I think the shape of the rest of the reshuffle, as well, indicates a desire to appeal to the more liberal parts of the conservative electoral base than had been the case up till now.”
In 2015, Cameron signaled a “golden era” in relations between Britain and China when he hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping at a lavish state visit.
But relations have soured dramatically amid rising security and geopolitical tensions between Beijing and the West.
“The golden era is well and truly over, is it not? And I think the mood, particularly inside the Conservative Party in parliament, has hardened considerably on China. And I think David Cameron is just going to have to get used to following a new approach when it comes to Beijing,” Menon said. '
Cleverly, who had been foreign secretary since September 2022, now replaces Braverman, who was sacked as home secretary a week after the publication of an article she wrote in The Times newspaper accusing Britain’s police of showing “left-wing bias” toward pro-Palestinian demonstrations, which she described as “hate marches.”
Sunak reportedly requested changes to the article prior to publication, but these were seemingly ignored.
Braverman, a favorite figure of the right-wing of the Conservative Party for her hard-line approach to immigration, was asked to step down in a telephone call with Sunak Monday morning.
At least 300,000 people joined a pro-Palestinian protest in London on Saturday calling for a cease-fire. Police had appealed to the demonstrators to postpone the march, as it coincided with Armistice Day commemorations, when the country marks the end of World War I and remembers those killed in past wars.
There were violent far-right counterdemonstrations, and police made over 120 arrests. Opposition Labour Party lawmakers, including London Mayor Sadiq Khan, accused Braverman of stoking community tensions and causing the violence, which she denied.
Reports of antisemitic and Islamophobic attacks have risen sharply since the Israel-Hamas conflict broke out.
“Amongst those who have strong views on the issue, the pro-Israel people tend to break Conservative, and the more pro-Palestine people tend to break Labour. So, it reinforces existing party divisions, which I think makes it more likely that this kind of thing will explode along party political lines,” Menon said.
“With Israel-Gaza, you see it in a particularly acute form, particularly as well, of course, given the high levels of violence from both sides that we’ve seen during this awful war,” he added.
Political observers say the Cabinet reshuffle and the surprise restoration of Cameron to front-line politics is an effort by Sunak to broaden his Conservative Party’s appeal, as it lags far behind Labour in the polls.
Britain is due to hold an election before the end of 2024.