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Obama shouldn’t be barracked into zipping his mouth

by Hugo Dixon | 15.03.2016

Brexiteers have launched a preemptive attack on Barack Obama’s UK visit, telling him to keep his nose out of the EU referendum. Boris Johnson, Steve Baker and Peter Bone are three Tory MPs who’ve argued as much. That suggests they are worried that the US president, who is reported to be planning a trip to Britain in late April, could swing votes in favour of Remain.

Obama needs to be careful about what he says. It is not his place to tell the British people how to vote. But, as leader of the free world and a friend of Britain, he has the right – and arguably even the duty – to spell out some home truths about geopolitics. The President shouldn’t zip his mouth. Here’s a draft of what he could say.

“I’m not going to say how the British people should vote. That’s none of my business. Nor am I going to speak about the economy, except to point out that Congress isn’t so keen on new trade deals. It’s proving hard enough to get its approval for a pact with the EU as a whole; I can’t see how pushing through a deal with Britain on its own would be a priority.

“What I want to focus on is foreign policy and security. Britain and America have common values, common interests and common threats. That’s why we have stood shoulder to shoulder through the toughest times in the past century. That’s why the special relationship is special.

“But, as the British people think about their future, I’d like to tell you how I see the big picture. Russia is flexing its muscles in the East. We don’t like that and we’ll work with Europe to stand up to Vladimir Putin. But you’ve got to realise that Russia is your back yard, not ours. Our biggest strategic issue is how China evolves over the next few decades, not Russia.

“The Middle East and north Africa are in turmoil. America cares about that, too, and we’ll do our bit to help stabilise the region. But since the shale boom, we are no longer so dependent on hydrocarbon imports to satisfy our gas-guzzling habits. For most Americans, the Middle East is a far away place where we’ve already wasted a lot of blood and treasure. Again, it’s your back yard. When millions of Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis start moving, most aim for Europe not America.

“More generally, we are tiring of being the world’s policeman. Some people will say that there’ll soon be a new President in the White House and the next incumbent will have a different view. Don’t count on it. Donald Trump is pretty isolationist. He wrote in 2000 that Europe’s ‘conflicts are not worth American lives. Pulling back from Europe would save this country millions of dollars annually.’

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“Europe needs to pull its weight. Partly that means spending more on defence. The UK is one of the few NATO countries that has kept its commitment to spend 2% of GDP on its armed forces. We’re grateful for that.

“Europe also needs to work together more effectively on foreign policy. If Britain and France decide one thing, while Germany and Italy take the opposite line – as they did on Libya – Europe won’t be much of a force to reckon with.

“And, if Britain leaves the EU, Europe will be fragmented and weakened. Of course, we will still need to work with the EU on the big issues. But you’ll no longer be our bridge. It’s inevitable that America will spend more time talking to the Germans and the French.

“The UK will still be our friend. Nothing will change that. But you’ll be more valuable for us if you stay and help lead the EU. It is up to you, of course, to decide what is best for Britain.”

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

This piece is being published simultaneously on The Telegraph

Hugo Dixon is the author of The In/Out Question: Why Britain should stay in the EU and fight to make it better. Available here for £5 (paperback), £2.50 (e-book)

Tags: , Categories: Articles, Sovereignty

2 Responses to “Obama shouldn’t be barracked into zipping his mouth”

  • Barack Obama will express a view and no doubt his comments will be quite rightly read and listened to, with interest. Mr Johnson clearly ‘already’ feels perturbed by the US President’s wider international perspective.

    ‘A piece of outrageous and exorbitant hypocrisy?’ Really? Can the US and the UK really be compared in today’s world?

    The US clearly already carries significant global influence due to its resources etc. The UK’s global dominance effectively lies in the past and only through leading a unified EU can it really continue to assert its influence on a comparative scale.

    Any view that the President expresses will of course be mainly from an International perspective. Pro EU sentiment will be based on the fact that he sees the UK membership and role in the EU as key to the UK maintaining its influence as a strong global player, politically, culturally, environmentally, socioeconomically, in business and militarily.

    Is it not a coincidence that both presidents of the world’s 2 most powerful countries have urged the UK to consider its position in the EU carefully? Where I wonder, do they see the UK being most influential in the future?

    These world leaders clearly recognise that the present global environment needs economies of scale for it to both function and help resolve the ongoing challenges that we face as a world community. Britain needs Europe, Europe needs Britain and the world needs a unified Europe.

    ‘Britain’ will certainly no longer be ‘great’ if it ‘retreats’ into its little protected ‘off shore’ shell. The global influence of the ‘Great Britain’ of the past is a bygone memory. For it (and Europe) to flourish in every capacity, it needs to exert its leadership but in a team environment.

    If it leaves, instead of its global position evolving, its position will diminish.

    To be influential one has to be sitting at the head table; not gazing through the window from the outside…

  • Michael Burrage states in “Where Is The Insider Advantage?” that:”The Swiss negotiations for an FTA with the US began in 2005, some eight
    years before those of the EU, and they were terminated in 2006 … [because] …
    Switzerland would not contemplate free trade in agricultural products, and the US
    would not contemplate an FTA without them. ”

    In 2014 Switzerland’s imports from the US were worth 11,000,000,000 Swiss Francs. Ours were worth about 54,000,000,000 US dollars. Absent the EU, with which European states would the US want a trade deal? Only those with an economy smaller than Switzerland? We import more from the US than any other EU member.