— The post is ancient and the duties are light (nonexistent, actually). But in order to step down from his seat in the House of Commons, David Cameron, the former prime minister of Britain
, had to take on another position on Monday: Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead.
Under arcane parliamentary rules, normally referred to as “taking the Chiltern Hundreds,” the purely symbolic appointment provides a legal escape hatch from the House of Commons by disqualifying lawmakers from holding their seats. Embracing the role has helped many lawmakers bring down the curtain on their careers without waiting for the next election. In this case, it is formally closing out a political rise and fall defined by Mr. Cameron’s decision to stage a referendum on European Union membership.
Mr. Cameron resigned as prime minister in June after failing to persuade Britons to vote to remain inside the bloc. Monday’s announcement means that he will also relinquish his parliamentary seat in Witney, Oxfordshire. The seat will be filled by a special election.
“In my view, with modern politics, with the circumstances of my resignation, it isn’t really possible to be a proper backbench M.P. as a former prime minister,” Mr. Cameron told ITV News, using the abbreviation for member of Parliament. “I think everything you do will become a big distraction and a big diversion from what the government needs to do for our country.”
Mr. Cameron, 49, had a swift rise through the ranks of British politics. He won his seat in Parliament in 2001, becoming Conservative Party leader in 2005, and prime minister in 2010, at the head of a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. His administration faced the formidable task of stabilizing the economy after the financial crisis, making cuts to public spending in the process.
Among the biggest changes ushered in by his government was the legalization of same-sex marriage.
In the 2015 general election, Mr. Cameron led the Conservatives to an outright majority in the House of Commons, but he had little time to enjoy that victory, having promised in 2013 to hold a referendum on leaving the European Union
by the end of 2017. Analysts saw the promise at the time as a way of papering over divisions within the Conservative Party, and of reducing the electoral threat to it from the right-wing populist U.K. Independence Party, which campaigned for a British exit.
Mr. Cameron favored remaining in Europe, and when he lost the referendum his position as prime minister became untenable.
On Monday, his successor, Theresa May, paid tribute to him. She said in a statement that she was “proud” to have served in Mr. Cameron’s government, which, she said, had achieved “great things” by stabilizing the economy and “making great strides in delivering serious social reforms.”
But Angela Eagle from the opposition Labour Party told the BBC that Mr. Cameron had “put his whole country at risk to settle a debate in his own party” by staging the referendum on membership of the European Union.
“He has now walked away leaving others to clear up the mess,” she added.