No regrets calling Brexit referendum, says Cameron

Former British prime minister David Cameron has said he does not regret calling the referendum on Brexit, but does regret the result as he would prefer the United Kingdom to stay in the European Union.

Speaking at a leadership conference in Seoul yesterday, Mr Cameron defended his decision, arguing that the landmark vote in June last year was necessary to seek public consensus on whether to stay in the EU or leave after being a member for over 40 years.

There was a need to tackle causes of populism, including excessive levels of immigration and unhappiness among people who had been left behind economically, he said.

"I regret the result but I do not regret holding the referendum," he said during his keynote speech. At a question and answer session, he said he fought a very hard campaign for the UK to remain in the EU.

"I thought that was the right answer," he said, while acknowledging the decision was for the people to make - they voted to leave.

Despite the outcome, which led to his resignation, Mr Cameron, 50, expects that the UK can continue to succeed on its own .

"If we were a smaller economy on the periphery of Europe, then yes, we would very much be pushed around by this big bloc. But Britain is the sixth biggest economy in the world, so it's perfectly possible to reach an agreement between Britain and Europe about our future relationship," he said.

The UK, he said, never liked the political nature of the EU anyway, and was less committed to it than neighbours like France or Greece. He also noted how the UK did not join the single currency system, and that its people did not like the European flag.

"Now we have to take a different path of being happy neighbours rather than reluctant tenants. But it is a doable, deliverable proposition," he said.

The two-day conference, which is into its eighth year, is organised by Chosun Ilbo newspaper. Some 130 global leaders, experts and scholars had gathered to discuss the topic of "new leadership in the era of hyper-uncertainty". Former US president Barack Obama gave a keynote speech on Monday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 05, 2017, with the headline 'No regrets calling Brexit referendum, says Cameron'. Print Edition | Subscribe