US President Barack Obama flew into London to advise Britons not to leave the European Union, but received a prompt retort when the Brexit camp used his own words – “Yes we can” – to say the country would be better off outside the 28-nation grouping.
Obama, who arrived here late on Thursday for a three-day visit, wrote a column in The Daily Telegraph that made the case for Britain to remain in the EU, including the claim that it would be able to counter terrorism better by staying in.
Obama wrote: “...I will say, with the candour of a friend, that the outcome of your decision is a matter of deep interest to the US. The tens of thousands of Americans who rest in Europe’s cemeteries are a silent testament to just how intertwined our prosperity and security truly are.
“And the path you choose now will echo in the prospects of today’s generation of Americans as well. As citizens of the United Kingdom take stock of their relationship with the EU, you should be proud that the EU has helped spread British values and practices – democracy, the rule of law, open markets – across the continent and to its periphery.”
“The European Union doesn’t moderate British influence – it magnifies it. A strong Europe is not a threat to Britain’s global leadership; it enhances Britain’s global leadership,” he wrote.
However, his advice was immediately countered by London mayor Boris Johnson, who repeated the charge that it was hypocritical of Obama to lecture to the British when the US would never countenance handing over sovereign powers to a grouping like the EU.
Johnson said: “It’s perverse that we’re being urged by the US to embroil ourselves ever so deeply in a system where our laws, 60% of them, are now emanating from the EU. America’s a proud democracy built on principles of liberty.”
He added: “I think what you’ve got is a situation in which the (David Cameron) government is ringing round every other friendly country and saying, ‘we’re in a spot, can you say something positive about our membership in the European Union?’”
During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to London last November, he highlighted the benefits to India of Britain’s presence in the EU, and said. “As far as India is concerned, if there is an entry point for us to the EU that is the UK, that is Great Britain.”
Several foreign leaders and international organisations have appealed to the public to vote to remain in the grouping during the June 23 referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.