President Obama leapt into the deep end of the UK Brexit debate today when he appeared with British Prime Minister David Cameron to urge Britons to vote to remain in the European Union. His forceful message "as a friend" struck many as personal meddling in foreign elections, and prompted howls of protest from the more vocal "Leave" proponents.
The June 23rd referendum on whether the UK should remain in the European Union or leave has pitted populists and nationalists on "Leave" side against those who worry that being cut off from Britain's largest market could wreck the economy.
London Mayor Boris Johnson, who is said to be aiming for the prime minister's chair, called Obama "hypocritical" for urging the UK to remain in a partnership of reduced sovereignty, when the US would never join such a thing.
Many on the "Leave" side bristled at the threat Obama leveled regarding trade relations between the United States and a United Kingdom outside of the EU. At a joint press conference with David Cameron, Obama addressed claims being made by the leaders of the "Leave" movement:
“Some of the folks on the other side have been ascribing to the United States certain actions we will take if the U.K. does leave the EU. For example, that, well, we’ll just cut our own trade deals” with the U.S. “Maybe at some point down the line there might be a U.K.-US trade agreement, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon.”
Pundits ponder whether Obama's "ride to the rescue" has done more bad than good. The "Leave" supporters, campaigning against the Establishment and foreign intrusion into UK affairs, can only be energized by Obama's actions. His blowing into town to offer threats if Britain exits the EU may push some "fence sitters" into the Leave camp as a sign of disapproval.
However, those most hallowed of prognosticators, the London bookies, said that Obama's efforts in the UK actually helped the "Remain" campaign.The wagering website BetFair has the odds of staying in the EU at 72%, up from 63% before Obama's visit.
Breakup Might End EU
A new poll shows that the majority of Swedes would support leaving the EU if Britain does ("Swexit?") Fellow Nordic nation Denmark would likely follow suit. In fact, a Brexit would embolden several anti-EU movements across the continent. Brexit advocates have taken heart from the shocking anti-EU referendum in the Netherlands, where 61% of voters were against closer EU ties with Ukraine. Each advance by one Euroskeptic party energizes those in other countries.
It isn't just the breakup of the EU that should be on British minds. Should the UK vote for Brexit, there is also a very real chance Scotland would vote for independence from the UK in order to remain in the EU.
In any case, things can only get more heated as June 23rd approaches. Can quiet pragmatism win out over fervent anti-establishment sentiment.