David Cameron has urged Theresa May to stand firm against Tory ministers who want “extreme Brexit”.
The former Prime Minister broke his silence in the 2017 general election as he hit the campaign trail for the first time in Crewe.
Cameron, who also refused to endorse his successor’s plans for new grammar schools, made plain that he was determined to do anything he could to stop a ‘hard’ exit of the UK from the EU.
Still blamed by many pro-Europeans for calling the EU referendum last year and then losing it, he insisted that he wanted to back May in any battle with her Cabinet’s hardline Eurosceptics.
And he suggested that if she won a big majority she would be better equipped to fight for a ‘soft Brexit’ with a free trade deal which would not leave the UK on the fringes of Europe.
“This is one of the most defining elections I can remember where it’s so important that the Conservatives win and win well, so Theresa can negotiate that Brexit deal and stand up to people who want an extreme Brexit, either here or in Brussels,” he told ITV News.
UKIP were quick to pounce, declaring that there was no such thing as “extreme Brexit”.
Paul Nuttall the UKIP leader said: “The mask slips, Cameron’s comments are exactly what we thought all along. Mrs May is a Remainer at heart and this election is all about ensuring that she has a majority of lobby fodder to force through a soft meaningless Brexit against the wishes of the British people.
“This is why UKIP is never more necessary than it is today, to act as the guard dog of Brexit and ensure that she and the Tories are unable to backslide on the referendum.”
Asked directly if he was happy to support May on things like new grammar schools, Cameron pointedly ducked the question, replying only: “I’m happy to back the Conservative manifesto and Conservative candidates and people here like Ed Timpson here in Crewe and Nantwich who do a brilliant job.”
But the ex-PM still insisted he had been right to hold the EU referendum last year.
Asked if he had any regrets about staging the historic plebiscite, he replied: “No I think it was right to hold that Referendum but when that Referendum result was not the one I recommended I recognised the country needed fresh leadership to take it forward..
“Someone who had the passion and the vision to drive that through, that’s what Theresa is doing.
“The bigger mandate she gets, the better it is for our country because she’s got to deliver that deal and I’m happy to help her do that by helping her to get the biggest majority she can.”
On the stump in Crewe, Cameron met some fans and posed for selfies but he was also confronted by some angry voters.
He was forced to debate whether the EU referendum should have been held at all with one young man, who demanded he take “a bit” of blame for what he called “the mess” the country is now in.
Critics have repeatedly blamed Cameron for failing to prepare properly for the EU referendum and for misreading the public mood before holding the Remain-Leave referendum.
Even Sir David Attenborough attacked the ex-PM for his role in taking the UK out of the EU.