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16th Aug 2022

Obama: No quick UK trade deal if it leaves EU

  • Obama (r) on his visit to London said he advises the UK to remain in the EU as a friend (Photo: Georgina Coupe)

US president Barack Obama on Friday (22 April) dashed hopes of advocates for Britain to leave the EU, saying a US-UK trade deal in “not going to happen anytime soon” in case of Brexit.

In a controversial visit to London before the 23 June referendum Obama advocated for the UK to remain in the European Union.

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After meeting prime minister David Cameron, Obama warned “the UK would go to back of the queue” if it left the EU when it comes to trade deals with the US.

“Our focus is on negotiating with a big bloc,” he said, referring to the US-EU free trade talks.

The US president’s comments are a blow to the Leave campaign, whose advocates say a US-UK trade deal could replace Britain’s membership to the EU single market.

Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, a strong supporter of Brexit tweeted in response: “President Obama won't be in office by the time we're out of the EU post-referendum. Trade deal of course in both countries interests.”

Obama also reiterated his arguments, earlier published in an op-ed in The Daily Telegraph, that the UK’s influence in the world is magnified by being a member of the EU, not diminished.

“And that is good for America,” the president said, arguing that the US wants to have its strongest ally involved in European decision making.

“The UK is at its best when it is in the EU,” Obama added.

Leave campaigners, such as London mayor Boris Johnson, accused Obama for “hypocrisy” for suggesting the UK should give up part of its sovereignty, when the US would not do the same.

In response the president said: “In the 21st century, the nations with power won’t be those that go it alone. They will be the ones that act together.”

Obama stressed he was saying this as a friend of the UK. “Giving a view is not a threat,” he said.

The president’s intervention has brought sharp criticism from supporters of Brexit, with Boris Johnson writing in The Sun daily that it was “incoherent”, “inconsistent” and “downright hypocritical.”

“For the United States to tell us in the UK that we must surrender control of so much of our democracy – it is a breathtaking example of the principle of do-as-I-say-but-not-as-I-do,” Johnson wrote.

The London mayor also complained in The Sun that a bust of former UK prime minister Winston Churchill was removed from the Oval Office in the White House when Barack Obama moved in, adding: “Some said it was a symbol of the part-Kenyan president’s ancestral dislike of the British empire.”

Obama for his part told the press conference that the bust is in his private study, so he sees it every day.

Campaign momentum

Obama’s visit came at a time when the Leave campaign seemed to have gained momentum.

Polls suggest a tie between supporters of UK’s membership of the EU and those who would vote to leave the bloc.

According to Ladbrokes, a British-based betting and gambling company, Obama’s visit brought a big shift in the bets as 90 percent of the EU referendum bets placed in the last 48 hours have been for the Remain camp.

Ladbrokes assess that the chances of a Leave vote have fallen from 34 percent to 29 percent in what the bookies described as the biggest shift of the campaign so far.

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