Obama warns Brexit would leave UK ‘back of queue’ on trade

UK is at its best when it’s helping to lead a strong European Union, says US president

President Barack Obama tells a London news conference that EU membership magnifies Britain's influence in the world, lending his support to those who want Britain to remain in the bloc.

 

Barack Obama has warned that Britain will be “at the back of the queue” in negotiating a new trade deal with the United States if it votes to leave the European Union in June.

Mr Obama used a joint press conference with David Cameron in London to issue a powerful endorsement for Britain remaining in the EU, arguing that leaving would not be in Britain’s economic interests.

“If, right now, I have got access to a massive market where I sell 44 per cent of my exports and now I’m thinking about leaving the organisation that gives me access to that market and that is responsible for millions of jobs in my country, and responsible for an enormous amount of commerce and upon which a lot of businesses depend – that’s not something I would probably do,” he said.

Mr Obama defended his intervention in the referendum debate, saying that he acknowledged that the decision was one for the British people, but he was being “honest” by offering his view. He added that Leave campaigners had been ascribing views to the US by claiming that they could cut a bilateral trade deal if they left the EU.

“And on that matter, for example, I think it’s fair to say that maybe some point down the line there might be a UK-US trade agreement, but it’s not going to happen any time soon because our focus is in negotiating with a big bloc, the European Union, to get a trade agreement done,” he said.

“And the UK is going to be at the back of the queue. Not because we don’t have a special relationship, but because, given the heavy lift on any trade agreement, us having access to a big market with a lot of countries, rather than trying to do piecemeal trade agreements, is hugely efficient.”

Leave campaigners criticised Mr Obama’s decision to speak out on the referendum, with London mayor Boris Johnson accusing the president of hypocrisy by asking Britain to share sovereignty in a way that the US never would.

Mr Obama said the US voluntarily accepted constraints on its own actions as part of multilateral organisations such as Nato and the G7 that pursued shared interests. And he said that Britain’s EU membership enhanced its special relationship with the US by increasing British influence.

British influence

Europe

Leave campaigners dismissed Mr Obama’s intervention, with Ukip leader Nigel Farage saying that “the last time we followed foreign policy advice from a US president was when we went to war with Iraq. We should be wary.”

Richard Tice, co-founder of pro-Brexit group Leave.eu, said the reason Britain did not have a trade deal with the US was because it was in the EU.

“The proposed EU-US trade deal Ttip (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) would be disastrous for British workers. 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,” he said.

Before meeting Mr Cameron at Downing Street, Mr Obama had lunch at Windsor Castle with Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh, and he had dinner with members of the royal family at Kensington Palace yesterday evening.