In agreeing to visit the UK midway through an election campaign, Barack Obama guaranteed controversy. As Tim Montgomerie makes clear in his Spectator cover piece this week, many Eurosceptics are angry at the thought of listening to a President with a clear track record of foreign policy failures. Boris Johnson, writing in The Sun this morning, was brimming with the zeal of a convert to the Brexit cause and borrowing from Obama’s trademark. He wrote: ‘Can we take back control of our borders and our money and our system of Government? Yes we can.’
But now Obama has arrived, what is his actual argument for urging Brits to remain in the EU? In the Daily Telegraph, covering for Fraser Nelson, he spells out several reasons including the fact that:
‘This kind of cooperation – from intelligence sharing and counterterrorism to forging agreements to create jobs and economic growth – will be far more effective if it extends across Europe. Now is a time for friends and allies to stick together.’
He goes on to say:
‘Together, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union have turned centuries of war in Europe into decades of peace, and worked as one to make this world a safer, better place.’
Obama’s basic argument seems to be an obvious one: sticking together is best in a dangerous world. But where he seems weakest is on the actual detail. As Dominic Raab pointed out this morning on the Today programme, ‘His government right now is considering imposing extra security screening and new visa requirements on EU countries’. There’s a clear argument to be made (as Boris has spelled out in The Sun) that it’s a case of do as I say and not as I do.
Obama’s main point is that EU membership amplifies Britain’s global voice. That…
‘A strong Europe is not a threat to Britain’s global leadership; it enhances Britain’s global leadership.’
This is certainly a new line, and one the Prime Minister doesn’t make – perhaps understandably. Not many in Britain think that we need the EU to add an inch to our shoes on the world stage, or that many countries heed us because our Prime Minister attend Brussels summits. Is the president really saying that Britain is now so remote to him (and America) that we’re seen primarily as an EU member, rather than the world’s fifth-largest economy in possession of one of the world’s fourth-largest largest military? But as Anne Applebaum argues in this week’s magazine, even this may be an exaggeration: a great many Americans, she says, just don’t think about Britain at all.