Friday, April 22, 2016

Obama's warning

US President Barack Obama has responded to Boris Johnson's journalistic musings concerning the President's personal feelings about Britain. Johnson had been angered by, and was responding to, the President's strong endorsement of the campaign to keep Britain in the EU.

In his article, Johnson suggested that President Obama, on account of his family background, and specifically his Kenyan heritage, may well have less than positive feelings about the UK and its imperial past. He referred to a story that a bust of Winston Churchill had been removed from the Oval Office at the beginning of Obama's tenure.

The mainstream media came out strongly against Johnson, with accusations of racism, and various sources claiming that the removal of the bust was not Obama's decision at all.

Obama's subsequent comments confirm however that it was his decision.

"When I was elected as President of the United States my predecessor had kept a Churchill bust on the Oval Office. There are only so many tables where you can put busts otherwise it starts looking a little cluttered," he said.

“I thought it was appropriate and I suspect most people here in the UK might agree, that as the first African American president it might be appropriate to have a bust of Martin Luther King in my office to remind me of all the hard work of a lot of people who had somehow allowed me to have the privilege of holding this office.”

He claims to have warm feelings about Winston Churchill. "I love the guy," he said.

But his remarks also contained a warning about trade links with the US should Britons vote to leave the EU.

The Independent reports:

He said the US would rather the UK remained in the bloc, and said a unilateral free-trade deal between the two countries would not be a high priority for America.

He added that he was merely offering advice to a “friend” and that it was up to the British public which way they voted. [Britain votes on 23 June on whether to stay or leave the bloc.]

Sounds like a threat to me; and a curious one, given that the Obama administration will no longer be in place when decisions about a bilateral deal with a post-Brexit Britain would need to be made. [In the event of a vote to leave the EU, there would be an extended transition period during which Britain would remain within the trading bloc.]

In a piece written immediately after Boris Johnson's initial announcement of his support for the leave campaign, I suggested that his popularity and mainstream credentials could possibly swing the balance of probabilities towards Brexit. But the polls seem to indicate that a majority of Britons still favour remaining in the EU.