David Cameron‘s last appearance in parliament as British Prime Minister ended in a standing ovation after a bravura 36-minute performance that taunted his rivals, reflected on his legacy and confessed his love for the office cat.
After six years as leader, Cameron will formally hand in his resignation to Queen Elizabeth later on Wednesday, passing control of the country to fellow Conservative Theresa May, who will be in charge of negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union.
Speaking in a packed parliament, with lawmakers, media, aides and spectators jammed into every corner of the ornate debating chamber, Cameron answered questions with the air of a man looking forward to an afternoon off.
“This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others,” he 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 to laughter, as his wife Samantha and their children looked on from the public gallery.
Cameron, often praised for his statesman-like demeanour, cut a more relaxed figure as he laid into his political rival Jeremy Corbyn, whose own future is subject to a protracted and acrimonious battle within the opposition Labour Party.
“We’ve both been having these leadership elections. We (Conservatives) got on with it: we’ve had resignation, nomination, competition and coronation. They haven’t even decided what the rules are yet,” he said, drawing roars of support from his side of the chamber.
“If they ever got into power it would take them about a year to work out who would sit where.”
Cameron likened Corbyn to the hapless Black Knight comedy figure in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” who was unable to see when he was beaten.
In the film, the stubborn knight suffers one major sword injury after another as he fights King Arthur, until both his arms have been chopped off. “Just a flesh wound,” insists the knight breezily.
“I’m beginning to admire his tenacity,” Cameron said.
“He is reminding me of the black knight in Monty Python’s Holy Grail. He’s been kicked so many times but he says ‘keep going it’s only a flesh wound.’ I admire that.”
Even the usually earnest Corbyn came with his own pre- prepared gags to the box-office weekly “Prime Minister’s Questions” session.
Giving up one of his allotted six questions to pay tribute to Cameron, Corbyn asked him thank his mother for her fashion advice – a nod to a previous rowdy exchange where Cameron said his mother would want the often unkempt Corbyn to “put on a proper suit, do up your tie and sing the national anthem.”
Cameron will later pack up his final possessions and move out of the Number 10 Downing Street office leaving behind one key ally: Larry the cat.
“Sadly I can’t take Larry with me, he belongs to the house and the staff love him very much, as do I,” he said, addressing mischievous social media gossip that the cat and Cameron did not get on.
Jokes apart, Cameron sought to shore up his legacy as a reforming prime minister, highlighting his government’s efforts to stabilise the post-financial crisis economy and the passing of gay marriage laws.
“I’ll never forget the day actually at Number 10 when one of the people who works very close to the front door said to me ‘I’m not that interested in politics Mr Cameron, but because of something your lot have done I’m able to marry the person I’ve loved all my life this weekend,'” he said.
“There are many amazing moments in this job but that was one of my favourites.”
He said he would miss the “roar of the crowd” in parliament, but assured his colleagues that he would be willing them on from his new position as a regular lawmaker representing his English constituency of Witney, near Oxford.
“You can achieve a lot of things in politics, you can get a lot of things done and that in the end – the public service, the national interest – that is what it is all about,” he said during heartfelt closing remarks that drew tears from some of his fellow Members of Parliament.
Cameron‘s final words, which were greeted by a standing ovation from his party and many rival lawmakers, recalled a memorable 2005 taunt when he mocked then-Prime Minister Tony Blair with the words: “He was the future once.”
Bowing out on Wednesday, Cameron said: “Nothing is really impossible if you put your mind to it. After all, as I once said: ‘I was the future once.'”