In what many may see as a dramatic U-turn, David Cameron, the former UK Prime Minister who bet his career on Brexit and lost, said he is now “delighted” at the benefits reaped by the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.
He said it had left Britain “big enough to matter but small enough to be nimble”.
His comments came as he was making his first appearance as Foreign Secretary before the House of Lords European Affairs committee on December 15.
Now a member of the House of Lords, the self-declared Remain voter – who once warned that leaving the EU would mean Britain “walking away from the world” – said among the benefits of the decoupling was the opportunity for the UK to make its own trade deals.
That includes the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership with Canada, Japan and nine other countries, which the UK agreed to join July.
“There is no point in leaving and not taking advantage of leaving,” Cameron said. “We’re not in the customs union, we’re not in the single market, we’re making this partnership work.
“I’m delighted that we’re doing CPTPP. We’ll be one of the largest players in this new emerging bloc. We can help shape, develop and grow it.
“While currently it’s a small percentage of our trade, these are some of the fastest-growing economies in the world,” he said.
“Obviously there’s a sort of capacity issue about how many trade deals we can do, how quickly. But again, I’ve been impressed that actually there’s a lot of very good work that’s been done and we need to keep that up.”
Cameron used his first appearance before the committee since being appointed Foreign Secretary last month to give his most detailed assessment of Brexit since quitting office the morning after the 2016 referendum.
He told fellow peers that relations between London and Brussels were now better than they had been for some time.
“A lot of the heat and anger has come out of the relationship,” he said. “It is now a lot more functional and I think it’s functioning well.
“We have decided not to be a member but we can be friends, neighbours and partners.”
In expressing his positivity at what he sees as the progress made since Brexit, Cameron also advised peers to dismiss any attempt to change the trade deal as it now stands between Britain and the EU, saying: “Let’s make the most of what we’ve got, is the way I would approach it.
“We’re not suddenly going to reopen free movement or go back into the customs union or any of those things.”