President Obama Visits Britain: Brexit Poll Prompts Worry & Warnings [Video]

President Barack Obama is visiting Britain for the last time as President of the United States. His visit was ostensibly to celebrate the 90th birthday of Britain’s monarch, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and the president and First Lady did meet with the queen and her consort, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, as well as with the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. The Duke of Edinburgh, 94 (also known as Prince Philip), was able to convince the famously strict Secret Service to allow him to drive the Obamas, along with Her Majesty, across the private grounds of Windsor Castle to their lunch location.

The Cambridges’ 2-year-old son, Prince George, was reportedly allowed to stay up 15 minutes past his bedtime to meet President Obama and Michelle Obama, and the little prince’s adorable handshake and monogrammed robe were a social media sensation over several days. The Obamas had Friday lunch with the queen and Duke of Edinburgh, and Friday dinner with the Cambridges and Prince Harry.

President Obama’s visit to Britain, however, seems to some to have an underlying political purpose in addition to coinciding with the queen’s milestone birthday. During the visit, the president published an op-ed in The Telegraph on Saturday expanding on his view that Britons should vote to stay in the European Union (EU) when the issue comes up as a national referendum on June 23. Social media users and pundits have nicknamed the referendum “Brexit,” a portmanteau combining the phrase, “British exit.”

President Obama visits Britain at a time when Brexit polls, according to the BBC, show a British public that is almost evenly divided on the question of whether to stay in the EU. The president pointed out in a joint presser with Prime Minister David Cameron that if the United Kingdom votes to leave the EU, a trade agreement with the United States could take ten years, because the United States would have to prioritize negotiating a trade deal with its biggest trade partner, the European Union, first.

President Obama talked up the “special relationship” between the United States and the United Kingdom in his op-ed, and insisted that while the decision must rest with Britain and Britain alone, it will unequivocally affect the United States if the UK votes to leave the EU. He also made sure to point out that British values have spread throughout the European continent over the years because Britain has been able to use the EU to exercise influence over its fellow member nations.

“[…] ultimately, the question of whether or not the UK remains a part of the EU is a matter for British voters to decide for yourselves. That said, when President Roosevelt toasted to our special relationship that night, he also remarked that we are friends who have no fear of each other. So I will say, with the candour of a friend, that the outcome of your decision is a matter of deep interest to the United States. 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.”

President Obama’s position has angered Britons who want to leave the EU. This group includes some members of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party, known colloquially as the Tory Party, who have broken with the Prime Minister and his desire to remain in the EU. It also includes the entirety of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) a very right-wing political party that formed specifically because of this issue and campaigns primarily for the UK to withdraw from EU membership. A handful of Labour MPs also back a Brexit.

President Obama’s visit to Britain unexpectedly included a stunning insult from London mayor Boris Johnson, a Tory, who suggested in his own op-ed in The Sun that the president may be “anti-British” because he is “part-Kenyan.” The president’s father was indeed Kenyan, and Kenya is a former British colony which gained independence in the 1960s. Johnson cited an incident where, shortly after his inauguration, the president sent back a bust of Winston Churchill that had been in the Oval Office and replaced it with a bust of Abraham Lincoln, but the Obama administration has long maintained that there is a second bust of Churchill on display in a very prominent place in the White House. Many, including several members of Parliament, took the mayor’s comments to be racist.

President Obama visits Britain on the weekend of the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, who was also born in April. The president toured the Globe Theatre and listened to actors’ readings.

[Image courtesy of Christopher Furlong/Getty Images]

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