American President Barack Obama’s comments that he believes the United Kingdom would be better off remaining in the European Union has, quite predictably, set the Brexit hares running.
Fury and outrage have spilled out led, again quite predictably, by Boris Johnson, whose conversion to Euro scepticism scarcely veils his ambition to be the next Prime Minister in Downing Street.
Mr Johnson expressed anger at being lectured by the “hypocritical” Mr Obama. “For the US 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,” he wrote in the Sun newspaper.
He said Mr Obama was urging Britain to pool its sovereignty with other nations in a way the US would never countenance for itself.
One wonders who is being hypocritical here, given that Mr Johnson used the Sun to air his views, owned by Australian turned American citizen Rupert Murdoch who is doing his best, through the various media outlets he owns, to push the United Kingdom out of Europe.
Outrage also came from the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, Nigel Farage who, in his particular style of delivery, told Mr Obama to “butt out”.
“This is an unwelcome interference from the most anti-British American President there has ever been. Mercifully, he won’t be in office much longer,” Mr Farage said.
Quite what information he possesses on Mr Obama’s anti-British stance is something of a mystery, and I might suggest that George Washington, who fought the British in the War of Independence and James Madison, who had is capital burnt by them in the War of 1812, might have harboured more negative thoughts about Britain than the current holder of the office.
Mr Farage should also be aware that Mr Obama’s departure from office next January isn’t likely to change much. Every American President since Dwight Eisenhower has advocated first for the UK to join Europe and then to remain. It has been and remains State Department policy and will not alter with the new Administration.
To return to Mr Johnson’s point about the US never pooling its sovereignty. Perhaps he should look at some hard facts. The United States has a gross domestic product $US 17 trillion and a population of 316 million. The United Kingdom’s GDP is $US 2.5 trillion with a population of 64 million.
With a GDP that outstrips every other country and a huge domestic population, the US has no need to consider linking with another nation and if it did would simply overpower it. What Mr Obama is saying, as gently as possible, is that Britain is simply too small, too insignificant and with too few resources to compete alone on the world stage and still provide the standard of living its people have come to expect.
That is certainly not being anti-British — it is good advice from a concerned friend who genuinely believes Brexit would weaken the cause of Western democracy just at a time when it is being confronted with mounting terrorism, Chinese expansionism and increasingly strident and erratic stance out of Moscow.
President Obama is absolutely right when he says the outcome of the June 23 referendum is of deep interest to the United States — and absolutely right to restate the long-standing American position that the United Kingdom should remain in the European Union.