Cabinet ministers spoke of a “sad day” but also Mr Cameron’s determination to remain upbeat and continue to drive the one nation Conservative agenda as he prepared to hand power to Ms May.
The new Tory leader moves into 10 Downing Street today as the UK’s second female PM.
Culture secretary John Whittingdale said there was a “touch of sadness” about the meeting but told Sky News: “It was emotional but quite rightly we spent a long time on the Government business, but then we had a period during which we could raise tributes to the extraordinary service the prime minister has given, led on by George Osborne and Theresa May.”
Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers insisted Mr Cameron is leaving Britain in a better state than when he took office in 2010.
“He’s changed our party for the better, he’s changed our country for the better, he’s also given me huge opportunities, so for me it was a kind of sad day to see David Cameron’s last Cabinet meeting. But I’m sure our country is in safe hands with Theresa May.”
Ms May now faces a breakneck period of activity appointing a new Cabinet after the expected nine-week leadership campaign was truncated to just a couple of days by Andrea Leadsom’s withdrawal from the contest.
Ms May is expected to offer plum posts to leading figures from both the Remain and Leave camps from the EU referendum, in which she backed continued membership but kept a low profile.
Mr Osborne looks unlikely to stay on as chancellor after the new PM trashed parts of his economic legacy, and is tipped to become foreign secretary in a potential job swap with Philip Hammond.
Senior Brexiteer Chris Grayling will be rewarded for his role running Ms May’s campaign, possibly replacing her as home secretary. And it is thought that a prominent Leave campaigner could be given the job of overseeing negotiations for the UK’s departure from the EU and making good on Mrs May’s promise that “Brexit means Brexit”.
Ms Leadsom is expected to be offered a job in recognition of her raised profile from the referendum.
But big question marks were hanging over the future of Brexit standard-bearers Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, who were seen to have blotted their copy-books in the wake of the referendum result but moved quickly to endorse Ms May when Ms Leadsom pulled out.
Ms May will take up office today, after Mr Cameron answers MPs’ questions in the House of Commons for the last time and goes to Buckingham Palace to offer his resignation to the Queen.