When David Cameron quit Downing Street in the wake of the Brexit referendum in 2016, he quipped that he had been the future once.
It was an ironic reference to a joke he himself had made about then-Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2005, shortly after taking over as Conservative leader.
But now the former prime minister is indeed back – making a surprise return to government as Rishi Sunak’s new foreign secretary, replacing James Cleverly.
The move has sent shockwaves through Westminster, and left many scratching their heads as to what it will mean for British politics.
Putting the man who blew up his own premiership by calling – and then losing – the Brexit vote in charge of the Foreign Office looks like a big throw of the dice from Sunak.
It is also a strange move from a prime minister who only weeks ago was seeking to define himself against every government since the early 1990s.
There were reports that Lord Cameron – as he will now be known, as he heads to the House of Lords in order to take up his cabinet role – was unhappy with that remark.
He also recently spoke out against Sunak’s decision to axe the northern leg of the HS2 rail project.
He has now said, in a statement upon his appointment, that although he disagreed with “some individual decisions” made by Sunak, he is a “strong and capable prime minister”.
His ambition, he added, is to be part of the “the strongest possible team” as the Tories head into a general election expected next year heavily trailing Labour in the polls.
His six years at the top of government will undoubtedly be an asset to Sunak, at a time when the government is consumed by foreign crises in the Middle East and Ukraine.
But with long-serving figures like Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove already in the cabinet, it could make it even harder for the prime minister to present himself to voters as a force for change.
There could also be some unease among Tory circles about the “golden age” of relations with China that was a key feature of Lord Cameron’s own foreign policy when he was the occupant of No 10.
Since standing down as prime minister seven years ago, Lord Cameron has kept a relatively low public profile. He released a memoir in 2019, and has campaigned for more research into Alzheimer’s disease.
He was thrust into the spotlight in 2021, however, when it emerged that he had taken a lucrative job lobbying for now-collapsed finance company Greensill Capital.
He faced a storm of criticism for repeatedly texting ministers on behalf of the company during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He later said he had acted in good faith but admitted there were “lessons to be learnt” from the scandal, and he should have contacted ministers in a more formal way.
A committee of MPs, however, accused him of a “significant lack of judgement”. (BBC)