David Cameron has accused the current prime minister, Boris Johnson, and Michael Gove of behaving “appallingly” during the EU referendum campaign.
Speaking to the Times newspaper ahead of his book launch, the former Tory PM attacked a number of his Leave-backing colleagues for “trashing the government of which they were a part”.
Mr Cameron said the result in 2016 had left him “hugely depressed”.
He told the newspaper he knew “some people will never forgive me”.
The former PM also criticised Mr Johnson’s strategy for dealing with Brexit, including his decision to suspend Parliament ahead of the Brexit deadline of 31 October and removing the whip from Tory MPs who voted to block a no-deal Brexit.
But Mr Johnson said the suspension – or prorogation – was a normal action of any new government to let them lay out their new policies in a Queen’s Speech, and blocking no-deal would “scupper” his negotiations with the EU.
Mr Cameron called the referendum in 2016 after promising it in the Conservative Party’s election manifesto the year before.
He campaigned for Remain, but lost the vote by 52% to 48%, and announced within hours he would be stepping down as PM.
Mr Cameron – who was prime minister between 2010 and 2016 – said Mr Johnson, Mr Gove, Penny Mordaunt and Priti Patel had “left the truth at home” on the referendum campaign trail, especially when it came to immigration.
He said: “Boris had never argued for leaving the EU, right?
“Michael was a very strong Eurosceptic, but someone whom I’d known as this liberal, compassionate, rational Conservative ended up making arguments about Turkey [joining] and [the UK] being swamped and what have you.”
Mr Cameron called it “ridiculous” and “just not true” when Ms Mordaunt made a similar argument about Turkey, followed by claims by the now-Home Secretary Ms Patel that “wealthy people didn’t understand the problems of immigration”.
He added: “I suppose some people would say all is fair in love and war and political campaigns. I thought there were places Conservatives wouldn’t go against each other. And they did.”
Mr Cameron said the Leave side had a “very powerful emotional argument”, while Remain had the “very strong technical and economic arguments”, and the former – plus the issue of immigration – was a “winning combination” for his rivals.
“It turned into this terrible Tory psychodrama and I couldn’t seem to get through,” he said.
“What Boris and Michael Gove were doing was more exciting than the issues I was trying to get across. I felt like I was in a sort of quagmire by the end.”
But he still defended his decision to call the referendum, saying the issue of the EU “needed to be addressed”.
He said: “Every single day I think about it, the referendum and the fact that we lost and the consequences and the things that could have been done differently, and I worry desperately about what is going to happen next.
“I think we can get to a situation where we leave but we are friends, neighbours and partners. We can get there, but I would love to fast-forward to that moment because it’s painful for the country and it’s painful to watch.”
Speaking about the current prime minister’s strategy, Mr Cameron said he “wants him to succeed”, but the plan has “morphed into something quite different”.
He said: “Taking the whip from hard-working Conservative MPs and sharp practices using prorogation of Parliament have rebounded.
“I didn’t support either of those things. Neither do I think a no-deal Brexit is a good idea.”
Mr Cameron also spoke of the damage to his friendships – including the one between him and Mr Gove, who had been close friends since university.
“We’ve spoken,” he said. “Not a huge amount. I’ve sort of had a conversation with him.
“I’ve spoken to the prime minister a little bit, mainly through texts, but Michael was a very good friend. So that has been more difficult.”
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