Don’t Pull Back From the World: Obama to UK Youth


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United States Pres­i­dent Barack Obama im­plored young Bri­tish peo­ple on Satur­day not to pull back from the world, a day af­ter spark­ing a row by bluntly telling Bri­tain it should re­main in the Euro­pean Union to preserve its re­main­ing global clout. Mr Obama an­gered crit­ics of the EU last Fri­day by warn­ing that Bri­tain would be at “the back of the cue” for a trade deal, if it left the club - one of the strong­est US in­ter­ven­tions in the af­fairs of a western Euro­pean democ­racy since the Cold War. Speak­ing to about 550 in­vited Bri­tish young peo­ple at a “town hall” Mr Obama sought to pitch a more op­ti­mistic mes­sage to young Bri­tons, who are con­sid­ered to be more pro-Euro­pean, if less ac­tive, vot­ers than their par­ents. Mr Obama said he wanted young peo­ple to re­ject the cyn­i­cism piped to­wards them by TV and Twit­ter, and he lauded both the Euro­pean Union and NATO for sus­tain­ing peace and pros­per­ity in Europe af­ter cen­turies of war and strife. “Think about how ex­tra­or­di­nary that is: For more than 1000 years this con­ti­nent was dark­ened by war and vi­o­lence.

“It was taken for granted. It was as­sumed that was the fate of man,” Mr Obama said at Lind­ley Hall in Lon­don.

“We see new calls for iso­la­tion­ism, for xeno­pho­bia. When I speak to young peo­ple, I im­plore them, and I im­plore you, to re­ject those calls to pull back,” Mr Obama said.

Jok­ing about Bri­tain’s colo­nial past, Mr Obama cited a “tea in­ci­dent” and said that the Bri­tish had burned down his house - ref­er­ences to the 1773 Bos­ton Tea Party protest and to the burn­ing of the White House in 1814 by Bri­tish troops.

But he stressed that the two na­tions had put their quar­rels be­hind them to en­sure a more stable and freer world.

Don’t pull back

Mr Obama’s in­ter­ven­tion over EU mem­ber­ship was wel­comed by Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron but it was not im­me­di­ately clear how far Bri­tish vot­ers will hear or heed Obama’s cau­tion over the con­se­quences of leav­ing the EU in a June 23 ref­er­en­dum. A YouGov poll showed that while Bri­tish vot­ers think Mr Obama has done a good job as US pres­i­dent, 53 per cent felt it was in­ap­pro­pri­ate for Obama to ex­press a pref­er­ence on how Bri­tain should vote, while 35 per cent said it was ap­pro­pri­ate.

Af­ter a visit to the Globe theatre to mark 400 years since the death of Wil­liam Shake­speare, Mr Obama an­swered 10 ques­tions from the youth au­di­ence on is­sues rang­ing from the peace in North­ern Ire­land to the rights of non-bi­nary gen­der in­di­vid­u­als. While Mr Obama’s warn­ing about the prospects of a post-Brexit trade deal with the United States led tele­vi­sion news broad­casts in Bri­tain, EU mem­ber­ship was not raised dur­ing the ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion that lasted over an hour. Mr Obama’s warn­ing over trade was es­pe­cially sen­si­tive in Bri­tain be­cause op­po­nents of the EU have ar­gued that the world’s fifth largest econ­omy could pros­per by strik­ing bi­lat­eral deals if it cut it­self free from what they cast as a failed Ger­man-dom­i­nated ex­per­i­ment in Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion.

Photo: Reuters

US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama speak­ing to Bri­tish youth at Lind­ley Hall in Lon­don.

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