May supporters publish pre-EU vote letters she wrote to Cameron

Former home secretary called for immigration brake, say allies of British prime minister

Former prime minister David Cameron with the current prime minister (then home secretary) Theresa May.  Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Former prime minister David Cameron with the current prime minister (then home secretary) Theresa May. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

 

Theresa May’s supporters have hit back at criticism of her role prior to the EU referendum from allies of her predecessor, David Cameron.

Ms May’s supporters took the unusual step of releasing details of letters she wrote as home secretary calling for an emergency brake on EU immigration to be part of Mr Cameron’s pre-referendum deal with other EU leaders.

A new book about the referendum, by Sunday Times journalist Tim Shipman, says that Ms May and her current chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond urged Mr Cameron to drop the demand for an emergency brake after Germany said it would not agree to it.

‘Lily-livered’

“Hammond spoke first and argued we just couldn’t do something that would receive an immediate raspberry in Europe. Theresa said very, very little, and simply said that we just couldn’t go against Merkel.” The book said Mr Cameron turned to an official and said he could not make the demand without the support of his “lily-livered cabinet colleagues”.

A second book, by Mr Cameron’s former communications director, Craig Oliver, said Downing Street viewed Ms May as pursuing a “submarine strategy” of disappearing from view during the referendum. After some dithering, Ms May backed the Remain side but made only one speech in favour of remaining in the EU during the referendum campaign.

The letters released by the prime minister’s allies show that she recommended seeking an emergency brake on immigration in November 2014 and again the following May.

The letters do not, however, contradict the claim that she drew back from the demand later in the face of German opposition. Former cabinet minister Iain Duncan-Smith, who campaigned for Brexit, said Mr Cameron’s allies should stop sniping at Ms May and focus instead on getting Britain out of the EU.

“Craig Oliver’s is one of a growing number of foolish attempts by ex-government remainers who lost to shift responsibility for their failure,” he said.