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Cameron bows out with jokes and appeal for UK to 'stay close to EU'

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David Cameron addressed parliament for the last time as the UK’s prime minister on Wednesday lunchtime, giving his final weekly question and answer session in the House of Commons.

He was then due to visit Buckingham Palace on Wednesday afternoon to hand in his formal resignation to the Queen. Theresa May – until now Britain’s home secretary (interior minister) – was scheduled to be confirmed as the new PM after holding her own audience with the monarch.

In Parliament Cameron urged his successor to position Britain as close to the European Union as possible.

Describing Theresa May as a “brilliant negotiator”, he said “we should try to be as close to the European Union as we can be for the benefits of trade, cooperation and of security”.

“The Channel will not get any wider once we leave the European Union and that is the relationship we should seek,” he added, referring to the stretch of water between England and the European continent.

Cameron’s last parliamentary appearance as prime minister was a lively, jovial affair – in line with tradition concerning outgoing prime ministers’ departing addresses to parliament. There was some jousting with Jeremy Corbyn about the state of the opposition Labour Party. And he threw in some self-deprecation: “I was the future once”, Cameron said.

“Other than one meeting this afternoon with Her Majesty the Queen, the diary for the rest of my day is remarkably light,” he said.

Cameron – who became prime minister in 2010 as head of a Conservative-led coalition with the LIberal Democrats – also said he would “miss the roar of the crowd” and the “barbs of the opposition”, adding that he would be willing the politicians on from the sidelines.

Backbench Conservative MPs gave their outgoing leader a standing ovation, while he received plenty of applause from the Labour benches too.

The outgoing leader highlighted his achievements as he saw them: the state of economy generating one of the fastest growth rates among western economies, cutting the budget deficit, creating 2.5 million new jobs and legalising same-sex marriage.

But he also faced some awkward questions: about Scotland (where a majority voted to stay in the EU), and about Europe itself. One MP reminded Cameron that years ago after he became Conservative leader, he wanted his party to “stop banging on about Europe”.

Attention will now shift to Theresa May, who has the daunting challenge of leading the UK’s exit negotiations from the EU. Already all eyes are on who will be in her new cabinet and in particular whether leading “pro-Brexit” figures will be given key posts in her team.

Cameron, meanwhile, leaves the stage – with some historians saying he is likely to be remembered for his performance in elections – and especially as the prime minister who paved the way and brought about the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union. And that is an outcome that he certainly did not plan.

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