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On ‘Brexit,’ Obama is explicit: No

Some Britons bristle as visitor advises against leaving EU

- By Michael A. Memoli Christi Parsons contribute­d from Washington. mmemoli@tribune.com

LONDON — President Barack Obama made a forceful case Friday against Britain severing its relationsh­ip with the European Union, arguing that such a move could diminish the United Kingdom’s global standing and even potentiall­y imperil its “special relationsh­ip” with the U.S.

The president’s comments, while welcomed by Prime Minister David Cameron and other leading officials who support continued membership in the EU, drew criticism from opponents who saw it as an unseemly interventi­on by a foreign leader into domestic politics.

The question, though, is whether Obama’s opinion will matter much to British voters in the June 23 referendum.

Speaking at a news conference with Cameron after the two met at 10 Downing Street, Obama’s case doubled as a defense of his own belief in the value of internatio­nalism and in bodies like the EU and NATO in tackling global challenges.

“There is a British poet who once said, ‘No man’s an island,’ even an island as beautiful as this,” Obama said, quoting the 17th-century writer John Donne. “We are stronger together.”

In the days leading up to Obama’s visit to the United Kingdom, likely his last as president, White House aides were circumspec­t about how deeply Obama would wade into the socalled Brexit issue, if at all.

But Obama had barely touched down in London on Thursday night when the Telegraph newspaper published an op-ed from the president describing his view “with the candour of a friend,” and why he felt the U.S. had a stake in the outcome.

Obama’s interventi­on has not been received warmly by the “leave” camp. London Mayor Boris Johnson, perhaps its most prominent backer, even raised the president’s African ancestry in criticizin­g his position, questionin­g whether it was “a symbol of the part-Kenyan president’s ancestral dislike of the British Empire.”

A survey of British voters from Ipsos-MORI conducted ahead of Obama’s visit found Britons divided about whether he should wade in, with 46 percent saying Obama should not express a view on the Brexit question, while 49 percent thought he should.

Cameron, for whom the referendum has represente­d something of a political gamble, seemed to have no qualms about bringing in a prominent surrogate to help make his case.

“Listening to our friends, listening to countries that wish us well,” he said, “is part of the process and is a good thing to do.”

Views on Obama’s interventi­on tended to break down neatly based on a voter’s position on the issue itself, explained Gideon Skinner, head of political research for the pollster.

“Most don’t think his views will be very important to them in deciding how to vote,” he said. “And when they are it tends to be among those leaning towards ‘remain’ rather than changing the minds of those who want to leave.”

On an issue back home, Obama joined the chorus of those condemning new laws in North Carolina and Mississipp­i as anti-gay but reassured would-be tourists Friday that they were still welcome in the South.

Obama’s remarks, made alongside Cameron, came after the British Foreign Office advised British citizens planning to travel to the southern United States about how the laws might affect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgende­r travelers.

“You are welcome, and you should come and enjoy yourselves,” Obama said.

 ?? KIRSTY WIGGLESWOR­TH/AP ?? President Barack Obama’s comments were welcomed by Prime Minister David Cameron.
KIRSTY WIGGLESWOR­TH/AP President Barack Obama’s comments were welcomed by Prime Minister David Cameron.

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