Why Has Obama Entered the Brexit Debate?

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Obama hopes that the U.K. will continue to tackle 21st century challenges as a member of the E.U.

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Next month, Britons will be asked to decide via referendum whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union or leave – a contingency known as “Brexit” (British Exit). With the referendum just weeks away, President Obama has visited the U.K., ostensibly to “wish Her Majesty a happy birthday in person.”

A known advocate for Britain remaining in the E.U., Obama made a number of speeches and penned an op-ed in The Telegraph arguing that the Brexit referendum is a “deep interest of the United States.” Obama explained that this is because the security and prosperity of Europe and the U.S. are “intertwined,” and a “silent testament” to this fact are the “thousands of Americans who rest in Europe’s cemeteries.”

Obama calls the Brexit referendum one of several “fault lines” developing in Europe, and one that throws into question “whether the kind of prosperity that we’ve built together is going to continue.” That is why Obama  says he has “had the temerity to weigh in on” the debate.

Together, Obama argued, the U.S., U.K., and E.U. countries have “turned centuries of war in Europe into decades of peace” and have “worked as one to make this world a safer, better place.” The U.K. strengthens both its own and America’s “collective security and prosperity through the E.U.,” he said.

Obama wrote that this partnership was forged as the U.K. and U.S. “spilt blood together on the battlefield,” and from “the ashes of war” they constructed the “institutions and initiatives to sustain a prosperous peace.” True, these have “constrained our freedom to operate,” he says, and have meant dealing “with some bureaucracy,” but their success has been “maybe unmatched in the history of the world.” Obama hopes this partnership will continue to achieve such successes in “this young century,” too, but this is only possible by working with institutions like the E.U.

E.U. membership “doesn’t diminish” British influence, as Out campaigners have claimed, “it magnifies [it],” says Obama. After 1945, and again in 1991, “the EU has helped spread British values and practices – democracy, the rule of law, open markets – across the continent and to its periphery.” The U.S. simply wants “to make sure that the United Kingdom continues to have that influence,” Obama said.

Obama looks to challenges requiring coordinated collective action, such as the nuclear deal negotiated with Iran and the climate change agreement signed in Paris this April. He explained that in each case “the E.U.’s seat at the table magnified the United Kingdom’s voice,” and ultimately made these agreements possible.

Because the very nature of threats has changed since 1991, time and again, he claims that, “the nations who wield their influence most effectively are the nations that do it through the collective action that today’s challenges demand.”

Finally, Obama argues that the E.U.’s single market continues to provide “enormous opportunities for the British people.” The U.S. President says that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, currently being negotiated between the U.S. and E.U. will advance British and American shared values and interests and “establish the high-standard, pro-worker rules for trade and commerce in the 21st century economy.”

If the U.K. leaves the E.U., and therefore abandons TTIP, there might be a bilateral trade deal at “some point down the line,” but as Obama has made clear, “given the heavy lift on any trade agreement” the U.S. favors dealing with a large market with lots of countries – “piecemeal trade agreements” with individual countries are “hugely inefficient” by comparison. In other words: the U.K. would be at “the back of the queue.”

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  • Obama hopes that the U.K. will continue to tackle 21st century challenges as a member of the E.U.
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UKIP leader Nigel Farage thinks the most anti-British president in history should butt out

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Leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, Nigel Farage, firmly believes that U.S. President Barack Obama has no business taking sides in the Brexit debate and should “butt out.” By precedent, U.S. presidents “don’t get involved or comment on [British] General Elections,” Farage claims, “and nor should they with a referendum of this magnitude.”

To make matters worse, Farage tweeted, Obama “won’t be in office by the time [the U.K. is] out of the EU post-referendum.”

Farage casted doubt on Obama’s claims that Britain’s trade relationship with the U.S. might suffer, stating that a “trade deal [is] of course in both countries’ interests.” Farage claims that this would be achieved quickly, contrary to Obama’s remarks, with some senior Republican figures like John Bolton even suggesting that Britain’s relationship with the U.S., post-Brexit, “would get even better.”

This is not the first time Farage has questioned Obama’s pro-E.U. stance or his knowledge of the institution. Tweeting in June 2015, he asked whether Obama understands that the E.U. “is a political union and not a loose association of member states?” Unlike institutions such as NATO and the G7, membership in the E.U. demands a surrender of national sovereignty and by doing so the U.K. loses out, Farage believes.

Farage has consequently accused President Obama of hypocrisy for insisting that the U.K. remains in the E.U., as the terms of British membership are such that “Americans themselves would never tolerate.” On the matter of the free movement of workers between E.U. members – a core principle of the E.U. – Farage asks rhetorically: “would any American President seriously open up their borders unconditionally to Mexico as the UK has done to the whole of the EU?”

Where Obama claims that Britain leads the E.U., Farage claims “Obama must never have heard of Mrs. Merkel” – an allusion to the belief that the German Chancellor, as leader of the most powerful country in the Union, wields disproportionate power over E.U. policy.

Farage has also called Obama “the most anti-British” president in history, and alleged that his motivations for intervening verge on the sinister. He calls the TTIP agreement currently being negotiated between the E.U. and U.S. a “corporatist stitch-up” to privatize Britain’s National Health Service – “a dream for CEOs of big multinationals but a disaster for ordinary Brits.”

This is the “unholy alliance” of big money and big politics colluding to keep Britain wed to an unelected and unaccountable bureaucracy conducive to their interests, Farage claims. “Rather than dealing with individual governments” the U.S. can “deal with and lobby unelected EU Presidents and Commissioners,” thus bypassing democratic accountability, he warns.

Farage accuses Obama of a deep-seated contempt for British democracy and suspects that the answer lies in Obama’s Kenyan heritage, stating that he knows “his family’s background. Kenya. Colonialism. There is clearly something going on there.”

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Anne Applebaum, Founding Editor at InFacts, believes that Brexit would be disastrous for the entire Western world

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The American-born British citizen and a founding editor at the pro-E.U. organization, InFacts, Anne Applebaum, thinks U.S. President Obama is absolutely right to intervene in the Brexit (British exit) debate. Britain’s continuing membership of the E.U. “really is a matter of profound, bipartisan, long-term US interest,” she says, and the President is “right to take the risk and say so.”

It is crucial to American and British interests alike that the U.K. remains “a European power and thus a world power,” and a so-called “Brexit” is a direct threat to both of these, Applebaum believes. America and Britain have shared values, including “similar ideas about markets and […] about democracy,” and the U.S. wants these shared values “to be part of Europe” and “to push Europe in that direction.” Brexit would significantly undermine this policy, so the U.S. very much has “skin in the game,” she claims.

Within the E.U., Britain has “pushed for competition policy, shaped the common market, and made Europe a more open place, a better place for British and American businesses.” On security policy it has “backed the integration of the eastern half of the continent” as well as sanctions against Russia, following its invasion of Ukraine, often crucially convincing “other, more ambivalent Europeans” to toe the Atlanticist line.

Beyond British and American interests, however, Brexit would be disastrous for Europe and for the world order the U.S. has itself studiously constructed. Eight former U.S. treasury secretaries have stated that Brexit would lead to “economic turmoil,” Applebaum warns, since in an interconnected world “events in one country necessarily affect those in others” – the Brexit debate does not “end at [Britain’s] borders,” and the leader of the free world, of all people, is right to say something.

Furthermore, Applebaum fears the growing tide of populist isolationism in the U.S. and U.K. alike, which cares little for the modern interconnected world. These isolationists on both sides of the Atlantic seek to “pull apart the Western alliance” and “end the Transatlantic relationship,” she warns, and Brexit would be a significant victory for them.

With the E.U. in crisis “there is a risk that the rest of Europe could drift off in a not exactly Western direction,” and seek security assurances from Russia rather than with the U.S., thus undoing the work of the past half-century. While Applebaum is “no fan of Obama,” she believes that he “does speak for America” in opposing this most disastrous potentiality.

Meanwhile, the U.K. would transform into a sort of “offshore Switzerland,” becoming “a kind of amoral trading power, one of those countries with no friends, only interests.” Some in Britain already think it “more important to court China than to invest in NATO or worry about the retreat of democracy,” Applebaum says, and Brexit would only spur this movement onwards.

What Brexiters need to recognize, Applebaum states imploringly, is that “purely economic relations with the rest of the world [is] not how the world works” – if Britain declines to keep shaping the world “then others will do so” instead. The resulting drift into isolationism, Applebaum warns, “will end badly for us all.”

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  • Anne Applebaum, Founding Editor at InFacts, believes that Brexit would be disastrous for the entire Western world
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