LONDON (AP) — David Cameron made his final appearance in Parliament as Britain’s leader with dignity and humor Wednesday, turning the usually raucous prime minister’s questions session into a time for praise, thanks, gentle ribbing, cheers – and a sprinkle of criticism.
The warmth in the House of Commons culminated in loud applause and a standing ovation from his Conservative colleagues for Cameron, 49, who is resigning after voters rejected his advice and decided to leave the European Union. He will formally tender his resignation to Queen Elizabeth II later Wednesday afternoon and hand the post over to his successor, Theresa May.
“I will miss the roar of the crowd. I will miss the barbs from the opposition,” Cameron said, promising to watch future exchanges as a regular Conservative lawmaker on the back benches.
He even poked fun at himself, reminding legislators of a barb he directed at then-Prime Minister Tony Blair more than a decade ago: “He was the future once.”
“As I once said, I was the future once,” Cameron noted, as his wife Samantha and three children watched from the public gallery.
Despite the suddenness of Cameron’s exit – less than three weeks after the June 23 referendum on Britain’s membership in the EU – he appeared relaxed and confident as he absorbed both praise and carping from opposition lawmakers.
Replying to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is facing his own leadership challenge from two Labour lawmakers, Cameron poked fun at Labour’s leadership turmoil, noting that the Tories had had “resignation, nomination, competition and coronation” while Labour is still working out the rules for its contest.
He found time to congratulate Wimbledon winner Andy Murray and other British players there, and rebuffed rumors that he does not like Downing St.’s resident cat, Larry – “I do!”
Cameron noted that he had answered 5,500 parliamentary questions in his six years in office. Amid the jokes and tributes in his farewell question period, he fielded questions about eye surgery and a health scandal, along with criticism about the rise in food banks and his part in calling the vote that ended up with Brexit – a Britain departure from the 28-nation EU.
Trying to reclaim his legacy from Brexit, Cameron said his government had cut the deficit, overseen economic growth and legalized same-sex marriage. And he offered the closest thing he has ever given to a mission statement: “I believe that politics is about public service in the national interest.”
After Cameron formally resigns, the 59-year-old May will visit Buckingham Palace, where the queen will ask her to form a new government.
May has been Britain’s Home Secretary in charge of immigration and law and order for the past six years. She has the tough task of calming the country and global financial markets after the massive upheaval that has followed Brexit vote.
She is expected to quickly unveil a new Cabinet lineup, including a minister in charge of implementing the British exit from the EU.
May, who backed remaining in the EU, is also expected to appoint prominent “leave” campaigners to key jobs. Observers are keen to see if she appoints former London Mayor Boris Johnson and Justice Secretary Michael Gove, onetime Conservative leadership contenders who headed the “leave” campaign but then turned on one another.
There is also speculation that May, Britain’s second female prime minister after Margaret Thatcher, will boost the number of women in top posts.
Cameron told The Daily Telegraph it had been “a privilege to serve the country I love.” He said he hoped he was leaving “a stronger country, a thriving economy and more chances to get on in life.”
Newspapers offered harsher judgments of a politician toppled by his decision to call a referendum on EU membership – which he then lost. The Sun said Cameron had been “undone by his Olympian overconfidence,” while the Guardian called him a “prime minister of broken promises.”
But Cameron drew praise from an old adversary, with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker saying he would miss the British leader.
Cameron once derided Juncker as a Brussels backroom bureaucrat and tried to block him from becoming commission president. But Juncker told reporters in Beijing that he had “no beef” with Cameron.
“I have experienced a man who is serious, who is a fan of no-nonsense policy and who was delivering at each and every moment when things started to become serious,” Juncker said.
—-Associated Press Writer Louise Watt in Beijing contributed to this story.