David Cameron tells EU leaders: Immigration fears triggered Brexit
Concerns over immigration were at the heart of the decision to leave the EU, David Cameron has said, as he urged his European counterparts not to “shy away” from the issue.
The Tory leader yesterday attended his last European Council meeting as Prime Minister, telling EU leaders they must allow migration to be curbed if they want to secure a future deal with Britain.
After discussing last week’s vote over dinner last night, he said trade and security co-operation would be key tenents of future links between the UK and Europe.
But he warned that reconciling voters’ “great concerns” over immigration with single market access would be a “huge challenge”.
A government source said: "Mr Cameron believes that one of the key issues in the referendum campaign, and therefore why a lot of people voted to leave, is this sense that there was no control on the scale of immigration and freedom of movement.
"That was one of the factors."
His advice to EU leaders came after German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that the UK must accept the free movement of people if it wants to retain access to the single market.
In a warning to Mr Cameron’s successor in No 10, she sought to reassure the German parliament she would not allow Britain to “cherry-pick” elements of EU membership.
"If you wish to have free access to the single market then you have to accept the fundamental European rights as well as obligations that come from it," she said.
"This is as true for Great Britain as for anybody else."
Speaking in Brussels yesterday afternoon, the Prime Minister said the UK “must not” turn its back on the EU and should use its exit negotiations to maintain close ties with the bloc.
In a press conference after the dinner, Mr Cameron stood by his decision to hold the referendum, which he lost by 48.1% to 51.9%.
"I don't regret holding the referendum - I think it was the right thing to do," he said.
"I regret losing the referendum, of course. I'm a democrat and the British people have decided Britain should go.
"At the end of the day, we cannot leave to parliament questions about the nature of the way we are governed."
The formal process of leaving the EU will begin once Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty on exiting the bloc has been triggered.
Mr Cameron, who announced last Friday his intention to resign as Prime Minister, has left it to his successor to decide when to initiate the legal process.