‘Back of free trade queue’: Brits slam Obama for ‘threats’ over Brexit
Obama made the comments while speaking at a joint briefing in London alongside UK Prime Minister David Cameron after their Friday meeting at 10 Downing Street. The US leader is in the British capital for a three-day visit coinciding with Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday.
“I think it’s fair to say that maybe at some point down the line there might be a UK-US trade agreement, but it’s not going to happen any time soon because our focus is in negotiating with a big bloc, the European Union, to get a trade agreement done. And the UK is going to be in the back of the queue,” Obama said, seemingly countering one of the main arguments of Brexit supporters, who claim that the UK would be better off negotiating trade deals on its own terms rather than as part of the EU.
“I don’t think the EU moderates UK influence in the world – it magnifies it,” he added.
Obama’s veiled threat comes amid talks over the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal that would create a US-EU free trade zone. Recent surveys have revealed a sharp increase in the number of Europeans who believe the pact would have a negative impact on the EU’s economy and consumer protections.
Cameron responded to Obama’s comments by calling him “a very good friend” who the UK could rely upon for “sage advice.”
The British PM, a known opponent of Brexit, also said that “Britain’s membership of the EU gives us a powerful tool to deliver on the prosperity and security that our people need.” Praising the current state of US-UK relations, he stressed that “when it comes to the special relationship between our two countries, there’s no greater enthusiast than me,” while referring to Obama as “my friend Barack.”
The British PM also talked about security issues, hailing the Iranian nuclear deal, fighting Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Syria and Iraq, as well as imposing sanctions on Russia, as major US-UK achievements.
Unlike Cameron, many Brits clearly do not appreciate Obama’s “sage advice,” seeing his passionate plea as a direct threat and blatant involvement in Britain’s internal affairs.
Twitter exploded with a storm of messages decrying Obama’s comments as an attempt at blackmail and interference.
“Advising us on EU membership is one thing, threatening us is another,” LellyVee tweeted.
“Whilst I think we are better off staying in the EU – I resent this patronising pat on the head from Obama. Piss off! Could back fire,” wrote Jack Duncan, another Twitter user.
Some critics called on the US President to simply stay out of the UK’s domestic affairs, while others expressed outrage over a perceived attack on British sovereignty.
“Sorry Barack Obama, this poll is UK ONLY,” reads a tweet from Poll Station UK, which covers all matters pertaining to the Brexit referendum.
A tweet from Desailly’s Child suggests that the US go even further – back to the good ole days.
“Well I suggest the USA become part of the United Kingdom again! How’d ya like them apples?!” he wrote.
While saying that she is not an “ardent #Brexit supporter,” Rebecca Bardess nonetheless felt the need to chastise Obama for his seemingly imperial attitude.
“U bully us about how to vote, then take ownership of the queen. This isn’t chess. And the royal ‘We’? Come ON.”
Adding fuel to the flames, the hashtag #BackOfTheQueue has started trending on UK Twitter. Besides backlash and sarcasm, it has seen some Remain campaign supporters jumping in…
…as well as TTIP opponents.
Katie Hopkins, a controversial Mail Online columnist, has denounced Obama’s stick-and-carrot tactics, accusing him of using threats to pressure British voters to opt for staying in the EU.
“Overall the sense I’m getting from people is a question about interference. Why have we got an American coming over here to the UK to tell us how to vote on the EU, why is he splashed across the front of our newspapers, telling us he has a right to have a say because American blood was spilled helping defend us in WW2,” she told RT in an interview, referring to Obama’s op-ed in the The Telegraph published ahead of the visit, in which he urged the British public to “be proud that the EU has helped spread British values and practice.”
“Why have we got him telling us that it’s good for us to stay as part of Europe, because it’s ‘good for our lawmaking, financial systems, good for our sovereignty’ whereas, in fact, we’ve given away our sovereignty,” argued Hopkins.
An outspoken Brexit supporter and radical anti-migrant columnist, Hopkins believes that “British people want their country back and we need to be out of Europe.” She says this would not only save the UK from the “uncontrolled migration” the EU is faced with due to its “ill-conceived” migration policies, but also enable Britain to enforce its own laws without interference from European courts.
London Mayor Boris Johnson also slammed Obama’s statements, calling them “paradoxical, inconsistent, incoherent” in a column for The Sun, in which he highlighted Obama’s hypocrisy by arguing that the US President would never concede as much sovereignty to any international institution as Britain has.
“It’s a breathtaking example of the principle of do-as-I-say-but-not-as-I-do…Can you imagine Americans entrusting their trade negotiations to a body that comprised only 3.6 per cent Americans?” Johnson wondered, while calling the idea “laughable.” The mayor also threw a rather personal jab at Obama, referring to a rumor suggesting that the US President had removed Winston Churchill’s bust from his office, which he attributed to “the part-Kenyan President’s ancestral dislike of the British empire.”
Another prominent Leave campaigner, UKIP head Nigel Farage, bluntly advised Obama to “butt out” of the Brexit debate.
The looming referendum on whether the UK should remain a member of the EU is scheduled for June 23. A recent Ipsos poll suggests that the Remain campaigners currently enjoy a 10-point advantage over those who want Britain to leave the bloc.