Rome—British voters not only rebuffed European Union membership via the monumental Brexit referendum, they also rejected threats from President Barack Obama to punish Britain if it left the EU.
Back in April, Obama told the Brits that if they bolted the EU, they could expect the U.S. to put the UK at “the back of the queue” of any new trade arrangements with the United States. He made this veiled threat at the behest of the now-humbled Prime Minister David Cameron, the head of the country’s Remain campaign.
It’s evident that Obama’s threat had little impact in increasing the pro-Remain vote but it certainly offended the highly nationalistic pro-Brexit constituency.
After the Brexit results came in, Obama suddenly remembered the UK and dusted off the “special relationship” that has characterized ties between the two countries. “The special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is enduring, and the United Kingdom’s membership in NATO remains a vital cornerstone of U.S. foreign, security, and economic policy,” he said.
In any event, Obama’s April warnings do not bind his possible successors, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Trump, curiously enough on a visit to pro-Remain Scotland, praised the UK for having “taken their country back.” He promised to “strengthen our ties with a free and independent Britain, deepening our bonds in commerce, culture and mutual defense. The whole world is more peaceful and stable when our two countries — and our two peoples — are united together, as they will be under a Trump administration.”
Indirectly, the vote is a Trumpian-style victory, based on concern over economic decline and increased immigration. He is undoubtedly hoping the British vote will somehow translate to the election on American shores.
Clinton, who also backed Remain, tried to fold the results into her argument that Trump is a danger because Brexit, “Underscores the need for us to pull together to solve our challenges as a country, not tear each other down.”.
Obama, meanwhile, should eat his “back of the queue” words.