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by Mick the Ram
There was widespread shock at the beginning of the week, not because Suella Braverman lost her job as home secretary, nor the fact that James Cleverly replaced her; it was his replacement as foreign secretary that had jaws dropping.
It was announced that former prime minister David Cameron would step into the role with immediate effect. He had quit as leader following the narrow Brexit defeat in 2016, after which he chose to step aside, having called the referendum and been supremely confident of winning the remain vote.
Ms Braverman had been on borrowed time and sealed her own exit with her behaviour surrounding her article in which she refused to tone down criticism of the Metropolitan Police, in the run up to Remembrance weekend.
On the same day as Mr Cameron took up his new position it was also revealed he would be entering the House of Lords, meaning he will now be referred to as Lord Cameron.
He had indicated in several quarters that he wanted to come back to public service, but this move came right out of the blue and left almost everyone blind-sided.
Not all Conservative MPs are happy with his appointment, with concerns being expressed about which direction the party is now heading.
The most appealing
In returning to the cabinet table after a break of over seven years, allies of Lord Cameron have suggested that the job of foreign secretary is the one that would appeal more than any other.
Watching him stood alongside the PM during the Armistice Day ceremony at the Cenotaph, just 24 hours before the announcement, few would have guessed what was to follow; nor that the decision had been made more than a week earlier, which is another fact to anger the already fuming Ms Braverman, still further.
Seemingly Mr Sunak had found Lord Cameron a “helpful sounding board” during the past year on a variety of issues, so in that respect his appointment should not come as a complete surprise.
Nevertheless, it would have been very hard to predict such a turn of events back in 2016, when Lord Cameron walked away from Downing Street having served as PM for 6 years and seeming relatively secure. He resigned his position – some might say out of shame, others out of humiliation – after losing the EU referendum.
In his resignation speech he said: “Leaving Europe was not the path I recommended, but Britain can survive outside the European Union.” He continued: “I was absolutely clear about my belief that Britain is stronger, safer and better off inside the EU, but the British people made a different decision to take a different path.” After thanking several people he wrapped up his departure by saying: “Now the decision has been made to leave, we need to find the best way and as such, I think the country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction.”
Vote of no confidence
Richard Holden, the newly-appointed Conservative Party chair remarked that Lord Cameron was returning first and foremost “out of a sense of duty” and would bring experience to the role. However, one backbencher, Dame Andrea Jenkyns, immediately handed in a letter of “no confidence” in the prime minister, citing the sacking of Mrs Braverman.
Although there are likely to be more, it would take an unlikely 53 similar letters to be presented, before Mr Sunak’s leadership is in anyway threatened.
Accusations of desperation
Opposition parties predictably tore into the PM for his choice, with Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves suggesting that the move proved that the Conservatives were “out of ideas,” whilst Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said it “sounds like desperation”.
Accountability called into question
Another question mark was raised by a concerned Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle. He wondered how MP’s would be able to hold Lord Cameron to account, given that he will be sitting as a peer and therefore not in the Commons.
He will not be required to answer urgent questions from MP’s during emergencies, although it is likely in such circumstances, that he would be required to respond to the equivalent version in the House of Lords.
Sir Lindsay said he would “do everything” he could to ensure Lord Cameron faces scrutiny, adding that he looked forward to hearing from the government on how the new foreign secretary would be held “properly accountable”.
The last UK foreign secretary to sit in the House of Lords was Lord Carrington, who took up the role under Margaret Thatcher in 1979. He resigned the position 3 years later in 1982, after the Falkland Islands were invaded by Argentine forces and took accountability for the failure to predict the invasion.
Association with finance scandal
He does of course come with some baggage connected to his dealings in the intervening years since leaving politics. He is closely associated with one of the UK’s biggest financial scandals of recent years.
Despite claiming to have always acted in good faith, it was revealed in 2021 that internal documents suggested that Mr Cameron made in the region of $10m (£8.2m) by jetting around the world to promote the highly controversial finance business, Greensill Capital.
This being the same business whose boss Lex Greensill was given an office in Downing Street under Mr Cameron’s premiership and who would later became his employer.
Billions of dollars missing
Greensill Capital promoted itself as a high-tech lender of supply chain finance, giving small companies awaiting payment from customers, opportunity to borrow money against their invoices.
It made loans of more than $10bn using money from customers of Swiss investment bank Credit Suisse, many of which were to companies who would further down the line prove to be unable to repay. More than two years later, over $2bn is still to be recovered by the appointed administrators.
Losses on Greensill’s loans were among the factors contributing to the collapse of Credit Suisse in March this year. Criminal inquiries into alleged fraud are ongoing in Germany and Switzerland, where the disgraced Lex Greensill has been named as a suspect.
Lord Cameron repeatedly refused to divulge to Parliament exactly how much he made promoting Greensill to investors. When challenged on the Greensill affair, he insisted that it was “all in the past” and had been “dealt with”.
Duncan Mavin, author of Pyramid of Lies, which is a book exposing the scandal, said: “It’s an astonishing decision for David Cameron to be appointed, when all the lawsuits and criminal investigations are still underway.”
The irony of foreign policy
Controversy never seems too far away from Lord Cameron and there is a certain irony that the man who was on the losing side of the most significant single decision in British foreign policy in decades, will now represent the UK’s foreign policy, and will do so under the Brexit supporting leadership of Rishi Sunak.