One Last Time: Behind the scenes of Cameron's last summit meeting

Article published on July 7, 2016
Article published on July 7, 2016

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Less than a week after the victory of Brexit in the British referendum, the last European summit meeting to unite all 28 member states, took place under rather strange circumstances. A sad night, marked by apprehension, chaos and the metaphorical locking of a one-way door.

The heat is stifling as increasing numbers of people flow into the press room. On the stage, facing rows of chairs of which most are occupied, two Union Jack flags hang proudly next to the European Union's flag, with its twelve stars - representative of the ideals of harmony, solidarity and unity between the member states. Less than a week after the victory of Brexit in the referendum, this association seems unbefitting.

The clock is ticking, its is already 11pm. It's been twenty minutes since we were told "They are drinking their coffee. Cameron will be arriving shortly". As always, there is much speculation over when the summit meeting will end. But even though the building holds as many press rooms as there are member states, it's the UK press room in which the crowds of journalists continue to gather. They are waiting for the British Prime Minister's speech. His last at an EU summit meeting.

"As soon as the results of the referendum were announced, I applied for French citizenship"

From Japan, Norway, France and the United Kingdom, journalists and photographers of varying nationalities have gathered in anticipation. If initially migration, foreign policy and economics were the mains focuses of the summit meeting, Brexit is now the word on everyone's lips.

"Were you expecting this?" journalists and photographers ask one another. "The night of the referendum, I dreamt that the 'Leave' campaign won," recalls a journalist. "I woke up, looked at the news to reassure myself. And then I saw the results..."

Some don't hesitate to make a joke: "Come on, it's the last time that you will see me, after this we're leaving!". But others admit that they are "terrified" of what is to come. "As soon as the results of the referendum were announced, I applied for French citizenship" reveals a British journalist. "I am ashamed to think that in the United Kingdom, there are those who still advocate isolationism.

Conversely, non-British journalists, who have been covering European affairs for years, don't attempt to hide their relief. Brexit "looks good on paper" one of them confides to the other. "For years, the United Kingdom has hindered the development of the European Union". But faced with the rise of nationalism in Europe, he anticipates that all we can do is wait and see whether the referendum will signal a revival or the whether it will mark the beginning of the end.

A sad night

23:15pm. The minutes pass by and the press room is now bustling with people. Those who are sitting talk to one another. Many people have no choice but to stand. Among the "lucky ones", a British journalist, who arrived hours earlier, admits that she cannot relate to the sense of unease that is felt so strongly in the room: "Brexit for me signals a significant change. I can't say at present whether it will be a positive or a negative change however". She adds "the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union will take time. With regards to journalists' jobs, I'm not worried. The European Union remains an interesting topic. We will continue to cover it".

And then, suddenly, the British Prime Minister makes his entrance. His gait is confident. He positions himself behind the pulpit, which bears the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom. Eyes, cameras, smartphones are all fixed on him. "Good evening everyone, I have attended these summit meetings for six years, this will be my last" he says, referring to his resignation as Prime Minister. But in attempt to reassure his audience, he promises: "When it comes to negotiating Brexit, there will be no chair empty, the United Kingdom will still be represented".

 

As usual, he speaks energetically and with clarity. But to the question "isn't it a sad night for you?", David Cameron bites his lip, merely giving the reply: "Of course it's a sad night for me". The emotion is palpable.

For a year now, many commentators have claimed that David Cameron - who himself wanted the UK to remain in the EU - was playing with fire. "But I accept the decision of the people" he said, the morning the referendum results were announced.

The sheer quantity of journalists present in the room attests to the "historic" nature of the evening, with David Cameron concluding that "this is the best audience I've had these past six years!"

He leaves the room before midnight. The majority of the journalists follow him; they need to finish their articles, their video montages and radio reports. The next day, the first summit meeting will take place with 27 member states rather than 28, and, without Cameron. And during the national press conference, the door to the United Kingdom press room will closed, locked. Perhaps forever.

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Cet article a été rédigé par la rédaction de cafébabel Bruxelles. Toute appellation d'origine contrôlée. 

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Il nous a été officiellement interdit de citer les Clash, mais la question rappelle bel et bien cette fameuse chanson. Le 23 juin prochain, les citoyens britanniques se rendront aux urnes pour décider, ou pas, du maintien du Royaume-Uni dans l'UE. Huge. Tant et si bien qu'on a 2 ou 3 choses à dire sur le sujet. Retrouvez notre dossier très costaud sur la question du Brexit.