The In-Out referendum on Britain's membership of the EU resulted in 52 percent voting to leave and 48 for remaining — a result that shocked many politicians of all parties — and not just those who voted Brexit. Many had thought that the British people would naturally opt for the status quo if they were wavering.
Now — in a report on the referendum campaign and outcome — members of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee have blasted Cameron — who strongly believed Britain would and should remain — for failing to prepare for both outcomes, leading to political vacillation.
In particular, the MPs took Cameron's team to task for using public funds — and the civil service —to fund a leaflet sent to all UK households advocating a Remain vote, was "inappropriate and counterproductive for the Government."
"The use of the machinery of government during referendums has a significant effect on public trust and confidence. Referendums, therefore, need to be designed in such a way as to provide the utmost clarity for parliamentarians, campaigners and, above all, the electorate. It is of the highest importance that the referendum process is seen to be fair, by both sides, and that the result is agreed to, even if not with, by both sides," said Bernard Jenkin MP, the committee's chair.
The report said that, during the run-up to the EU referendum, there were many occasions when it appeared to many that civil servants were being drawn into referendum controversy. This damaged the reputations of the Civil and Diplomatic Services for impartiality.
"While the Government did not support a Leave vote, they nonetheless had a constitutional and public obligation to prepare for both outcomes from the referendum," the MPs said.
Cameron's biggest mistake was "Project Fear" — sowing the seeds of Armageddon in the event of Brexit. Bringing out the big guns — US President Barack Obama and a whole host of officials from international institutions — backfired on him. Cameron failed to make the positive case for remaining within the EU.
Cameron's ultimate misfortune was failing to take the pulse of the nation. He did not understand the extent of opposition to the Brussels machine. He was fixated by the delusion that Britain would play safe and stay in.
Cameron announced his resignation hours after the result of the referendum was announced and stood down weeks later when Theresa May was elected leader of the Conservatives. He resigned as an MP soon after. However, the committee said that should not have been the case.
"We recommend that in the event of future referendums civil servants should be tasked with preparing for both possible outcomes. The presumption should be that the sitting Prime Minister and his/her administration will continue in office and take responsibility for the referendum result in either eventuality," the MPs said in the report.
That recommendation will have implications for a future referendum on Scottish independence — which is now highly likely, with Scotland having voted to remain in the EU — when it takes place, possibly as soon as the summer of 2019.