Isabel Hardman

‘Careless talk costs lives’: Cameron angers MPs as he insists he was ‘misinterpreted’ on EU vote

‘Careless talk costs lives’: Cameron angers MPs as he insists he was ‘misinterpreted’ on EU vote
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It’s not clear who David Cameron is trying to annoy more: his party or the press pack following him at the G7 summit in Bavaria. But what is clear, at least in the Prime Minister’s mind, is that he has been misinterpreted on the issue of a free vote in the EU referendum. Not over-interpreted, as Number 10 said this morning. ‘It’s clear to me that what I said yesterday was misinterpreted,’ he said, explaining that he was referring to the renegotiation:

‘I was clearly referring to the process of renegotiation. But the point is this. I have always said what I want is an outcome for Britain that keeps us in a reformed EU. But I have also said we don’t know the outcome of these negotiations, which is why I have always said I rule nothing out.

‘Therefore it would be wrong to answer hypothetical questions. I know that can be frustrating. I know you want to jump to the end of the process and have all the questions answered now about the end of that process. That is not going to be possible. You are going to have to take this stage by stage, step by step and you will get the answers.’

He said that when he woke up and saw the newspapers, he decided that he would ‘repeat what I said’ (which he didn’t quite, but never mind) in order to stop the misinterpretation. Then, in the same tone of voice as a parent speaks to a child who has been caught stealing biscuits from the pantry, Cameron told the press that they should just ask if they weren’t clear about something. This went down particularly well with journalists, given Cameron gives them precious little opportunity to ask questions as he doesn’t hold the monthly press conference that he once promised.

There is a possibility, though, that the person who isn’t clear is Cameron, not the journalists. His answers may well have been clear, but not for the specific questions that were being posed, which were about the renegotiation, not the referendum vote. But Cameron may not have paid as much attention to the questions as those asking him would have liked, giving a ‘clear answer’ to the questions he thought had been asked, not the ones that had been asked.

Either way, he seems to have annoyed those in his party who are minded to vote Out. One says ‘he will squander his political capital with any more cock ups like that. Careless talk costs lives’. The Tory party has been in a very good mood of late, but this sort of thing will not help maintain that good mood.

One possibility that is being considered by some in the party, though, is that the members of the Cabinet who are minded to vote ‘Out’ may not be in the Cabinet by the time the vote rolls round. This would make sense in the cases of Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Fallon, for instance, who colleagues think are keeping their seats warm for rising stars to take in the next big reshuffle. But it wouldn’t make sense if Sajid Javid, who has said he doesn’t fear Britain leaving the EU, ends up thinking the country should vote to leave, as he has only just started as Business Secretary.