By Lauren Dorling
Barack Obama left the UK having stepped on more than a few Brexit toes – and delighted just as many in the Remain campaign.
The US president shed his normal composure to warn the public that Britain would go to the “back of the queue” for trade deals if it votes to leave the European Union.
Speaking at a joint press conference with David Cameron, he said that there might be a UK-USA trade agreement at “some point down the line”, but it wouldn’t happen any time soon as his focus would be on negotiating with “big blocs.”
But he insisted that whatever happens, nothing could affect the “emotional, cultural and intellectual affinities” of the two countries.
Addressing the speculation that preceded his visit, he reassured the public that he was not trying to fix any votes, adding that people should not be “afraid” to hear what he has to say.
“In democracies everybody should want more information, not less, and you shouldn’t be afraid to hear an argument being made that’s not a threat, that should enhance the debate.”
His strongly worded speech followed a more a prudent appeal in The Daily Telegraph, in which he explained his intervention as the candour of a friend who has no fear of the other.
In the piece, he expressed his belief that EU membership makes Britain a “bigger player” and that while the decision is one for the British alone, the matter is of deep interest to the US.
“The tens of thousands of Americans who rest in Europe’s cemeteries are a silent testament to just how intertwined our prosperity and security truly are. And the path you choose now will echo in the prospects of today’s generation of Americans as well,” he wrote.
But Brexiteers have said this “friend” should butt out of British business as weeks of protest finally came to a head.
Boris Johnson described the president’s remarks as a “breathtaking example of the principle of do as I say, not as I do.”
“It is incoherent. It is inconsistent, and yes, it is downright hypocritical,” the mayor of London wrote in an article for the Sun.
Richard Tice, co-founder of Leave.EU, was quick to point out that: “Obama doesn’t have the authority to deny us a deal as he will be long gone before any such proposals are on the table.”
Ukip leader Nigel Farage also blasted Obama’s remarks, telling Radio Four’s Any Questions that the president was speaking on the instruction of Cameron.
“No American would ever say ‘back of the queue’. Americans don’t use the word ‘queue’, Americans use the word ‘line’.
Therefore, what Obama said when he said we would be at the back of the queue, he was doing the bidding of Cameron and Number 10 and doing his best to talk down Britain, and I think that’s shameful.”
Ian Duncan Smith, who quit the cabinet last month in protest of the government’s cuts to disability welfare, issued a statement in which he said he found it “strange” that Obama was asking the British public to accept a situation that he would not recommend to America.
He noted that Obama would never let the “US Supreme Court be bound by the judgments of a foreign court” or allow “laws to be made for and taxes imposed on the people of the United States without the approval of Congress.”
The In campaign will be rejoicing at the prospect of Obama’s harsh truths weakening the Brexit side.
They similarly hope he will be the one to mobilise the younger generation as polls suggest less than half of 18-34 year olds are planning to vote.
They are therefore banking on the president, who is hugely popular among that age group, to persuade millennials to head to the ballot box on June 23rd.
But it is not just the elected power maddened by Obama’s involvement. A petition to prevent him from speaking out on the referendum has reached over 34,000 signatures. It was rejected by the government, however, on the basis that Westminster is free to invite whoever they wish to Parliament.
The President and Mrs Obama were in the country to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday with a lunch at Windsor Castle. He also met with the Prime Minister to discuss the progress being made against IS in Iraq as well as what can be done to defeat the group in Syria.