President Barack Obama’s intervention in the Brexit vote campaign backfired and helped the “leave” campaign win thanks to a “Brexit bounce.”
That is the assessment of Nigel Farage, a member of the European Parliament and leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), who was not part of the officially sanctioned leave effort, but was perhaps its most effective champion.
In the aftermath of Brexit, the British pound and global financial markets went into a tailspin.
Farage has worked for more than two decades to extricate Britain from the European Union, which culminated in the successful vote for leave/out in yesterday’s national referendum. Leave prevailed by roughly the same margin that Obama won the U.S. presidency.
Relentless pressure from Farage and UKIP — along with Euroskeptics in his own party — is credited with compelling Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron to authorize the Brexit referendum in the first place.
Parenthetically, Virginia Raggi’s June 19 landslide election as mayor of Rome on the populist, Eurosceptic Five Star Movement ticket may have been a precursor to the U.K. leave victory.
In the run-up to the Brexit vote, pollsters and many London-centric media pundits claimed that “remain” (or in/stay) would win by a few points, and the U.K. betting markets seemed to echo that projection. It turned out, however, that the bookies were also wrong, in that most bets were placed on leave but were skewed by a relative handful of large wagers on remain.
Earlier in the evening before the results started rolling in, even Farage himself hinted that he thought his side had lost.
Leave received the support of a coalition across the populist left and right, with many Labor Party voters somewhat equivalent to what was once called Reagan Democrats on this side of the Atlantic voting for Brexit. Prime Minister Cameron aggressively campaigned on the remain side, but was opposed by high-profile political colleagues such as ex-London Mayor Boris Johnson (his potential replacement) and Michael Gove, among others.
Across the political spectrum, most agreed that Cameron’s attempt to negotiate reforms and concessions from the EU went nowhere. A 2015 Cameron reelection campaign promise to substantially reduce immigration also fell short.
With the announcement that Brexit won the vote by 52 percent to 48 percent, Nigel Farage called upon Cameron to resign. A few hours later, Cameron did so, indicating he would leave office by October once the Conservative Party designates a successor who would then begin the negotiations over the EU exit. The will of the British people must be respected, Cameron asserted. Once Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is triggered, the U.K. has two years to negotiate a withdrawal agreement and unwind from the EU.
The EU itself might want to fast track the process, however. “A senior EU leader has confirmed the bloc wants Britain out as soon as possible, warning that David Cameron’s decision to delay the start of Brexit negotiations until his successor is in place may not be fast enough,” The Guardian reported today.
Although he is not resigning, Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is supposedly also on thin ice because he allegedly failed to mobilize sufficient numbers of pro-EU voters from his party.
In April, President Obama visited London. and expressed support for the remain effort led by Cameron, warning that the U.K. would find itself in the back of the queue (i.e., in the back of the line) for a trade agreement if the British public went with Brexit rather than “Bremain” in the plebiscite. Hillary Clinton also backed remain.
In contrast, GOP presumptive presidential nominee and Brexit supporter Donald Trump vowed that he would quickly strike a post-Brexit trade deal with the U.K.
In an interview with Breitbart News, Nigel Farage knocked what he considered economic doom-and-gloom scaremongering from Cameron and others in the remain camp (dubbed Project Fear by leave supporters). With that in mind, there was one big lesson to be learned from the Brexit vote, Farage claimed.
“Don’t threaten people repeatedly, because if you do, in the end, they cry wolf. They just stop believing you. So we have that from our politicians…’if you vote this way, you’ll be poorer, terrible things will happen.’ It’s Project Fear, or in the end when Obama came it was virtually Project Threat…threatening people too much actually insults their intelligence, and the lessons from the Obama visit are even more fascinating. Here is the most powerful man in the world coming from a country that we have always had huge high regard for….And a lot of people in Britain said: ‘how dare the American president come here and tell us what to do’ and it backfired. And I think we got an Obama Brexit Bounce, because people do not want foreign leaders telling them how to think and how to vote.”
One of Obama’s campaign operatives reportedly worked with Cameron’s team in the remain effort.
Little known fact: UK Cameron's campaign adviser was Jim Messina who was Obama's campaign adviser & heads biggest pro-Hillary super PAC
— Sharyl Attkisson (@SharylAttkisson) June 24, 2016
According to The Hill, the Obama administration attempted to intervene in the March 2015 election in Israel by helping Prime Minister Netanyahu’s opposition. Netanyahu’s Likud Party won, however, in another instance where pollsters got it wrong.
If the polls were accurate (which in retrospect appears to be a big if), Brexit was surging until the horrific killing on June 16 of pro-EU politician Jo Cox. Remain forces were accused of trying to politicize this tragedy, and it is unclear how, if at all, this affected the Brexit momentum. On election day, voters in her constituency voted to leave the EU by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent.
According to a chart published by Zero Hedge, leave polling started to climb after the Obama comments.
During his visit to Turnberry, Scotland, Donald Trump also weighed in on the alleged Obama Brexit connection, while also making reference to Thursday’s Supreme Court decision that blocked the president’s immigration executive order.
“[Obama] was embarrassed by the Supreme Court decision yesterday which was a real rebuke. And he was very embarrassed by, he got involved, I don’t know if that was because of a friendship with David Cameron. It could have been. I can understand friendship and I can understand why he did it. I think it’s something he shouldn’t have done. It’s not his country. It’s not his part of the world. And I actually think that his recommendation perhaps caused it to fail.”
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) June 24, 2016
Perhaps paradoxically, Scotland voted overwhelmingly yesterday to remain part of the EU, but it also is seeking independence from the United Kingdom.
There are now calls for Brexit-style referendums in other European countries, such as France, the Netherlands, Denmark, and elsewhere as populist parties gain traction.
Describing June 23 as Britain’s Independence Day, Nigel Farage told Breitbart News that “We have broken away from a political union where our power was being overruled, our courts were being overruled, and we had a complete open border for anybody from southern and eastern Europe, so this is a big, major historic step.” He described the “EU project” as a failure and in the process of dying because of the euro as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to give an open door to millions of migrants from Syria and elsewhere.
Some political observers in the U.K. believe that Nigel Farage and UKIP may have paved the way for Cameron and his Conservative (or Tory) Party to win the May 2015 parliamentary elections in a landslide. In that election (in which pollsters claimed that Labor had the upper hand), enough Labor voters went with UKIP instead, allowing Tory candidates to slip through in some districts, while in other constituencies, UKIP-leaners apparently voted tactically for the Conservative candidate to prevent Labor from forming a left-wing government in a coalition with the separatist Scottish National Party. UKIP received about four million votes nationally, but because of the U.K.’s convoluted electoral system, gained only one seat in the House of Commons. Nigel Farage himself narrowly lost his bid to enter parliament.
[Photo by Alastair Grant/AP]