Obama jets out as politicans row over Brexit battle

Barack Obama is jetting out of Britain after provoking a whirlwind of cheers and jeers during what is likely to be his final visit to the country as US president.
Barack Obama is jetting out of Britain after provoking a whirlwind of cheers and jeers during what is likely to be his final visit to the country as US president.
Have your say

BARACK Obama has jetted out of Britain, as politicians continue to argue over his dramatic intervention in the Brexit battle.

Mr Obama provoked a whirlwind of both cheers and jeers during what is likely to be his his final visit to the country as US president.

He is due to land in Germany on Sunday afternoon, where he will finish his tour of the Middle East and Europe.

Before leaving, Mr Obama reinforced his stark statement that the UK would be at “the back of the queue” for a beneficial economic arrangement if it breaks away from Brussels.

The Leave camp have been left infuriated by the president’s outspoken support for the EU, but young people in London gave him rapturous applause during a town hall-style meeting on Saturday.

The president used the meeting to urge young people to reject cynics telling them they cannot change the world.

Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives for a private meeting with US President Barack Obama at Lindley Hall in Westminster, London.

Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives for a private meeting with US President Barack Obama at Lindley Hall in Westminster, London.

He praised the close relationship between the US and the UK, which he said had improved dramatically since the British “burned down my house” - a reference to the torching of the White House in the war of 1812-1814.

The president insisted now was the best time in human history to be alive as he urged the audience to ignore cynical voices saying that nothing could change.

“Take a longer, more optimistic view of history,” Mr Obama said.

Though he did not refer directly to his controversial remarks that a post-Brexit Britain would be at the “back of the queue” when it came to American trade deals, Mr Obama said that generally such economic agreements were difficult due to “parochial” interests and “factions” within countries.

US President Barack Obama is given a brief tour of the theatre by Patrick Spottiswoode, director of Globe Education during a visit to the Globe Theatre in London to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare.

US President Barack Obama is given a brief tour of the theatre by Patrick Spottiswoode, director of Globe Education during a visit to the Globe Theatre in London to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare.

Mr Obama said racial tensions in America still needed to be dealt with, and people could not be complacent just because an African-American was in the White House.

“One of the dangers is that by electing a black president people say there must be no problem at all.”

A Sikh questioner called for movement on issues like discrimination at airport security. Mr Obama insisted it was explicit US policy not to racially profile at airports.

The president also praised the Black Lives Matter movement for raising awareness but warned that you “can’t just keep on yelling” at people who want to sit down and talk.

“Seek out people who don’t agree with you. That will teach you to compromise. Compromise does not mean surrendering what you believe,” he said.

Asked about the peace process in Northern Ireland, Mr Obama said it was an example of what could be achieved when the US and Britain worked together.

He said the greatest allies in the fight against terrorism were Muslim Americans.

“If we engage in Islamophobia we are not only betraying what is essential to us, but, just as a practical matter, we are engaging in self-defeating behaviour if we are serious about terrorism,” he said.

Though billed as an opportunity for young people to connect with Mr Obama, there were also some famous faces in the audience including Annie Lennox, Benedict Cumberbatch, Holly Valance, Bank of England governor Mark Carney and designer Ozwald Boateng.

Mr Obama also met Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and headed to Hertfordshire for a game of golf with Prime Minister David Cameron.

Earlier unbowed by a furious backlash from the Leave camp against his “interference” in British affairs during his visit to London, Mr Obama reinforced his stark statement that the UK would be at “the back of the queue” for a beneficial economic arrangement if it breaks away from Brussels.

“My simple point is that it’s hard to negotiate trade deals. It takes a long time, and the point is that the UK would not be able to negotiate something with the United States faster than the EU.

“We wouldn’t abandon our efforts to negotiate a trade deal with our largest trading partner, the European market, but rather it could be five years from now, ten years from now, before we were able to actually get something done,” Mr Obama told the BBC.

Denying that he was a “lame duck” president as prominent Leave figures have alleged, Mr Obama delivered a direct slap-down to the Brexit camp who had claimed the UK could cut a speedy deal with the US.

“The point I was simply making was that for those who suggested that, you know, if we could just not be entangled with the Europeans, our special relationship is going to mean that we can just cut the line and just get a quick deal with the United States, and it will be a lot more efficient, and that’s not how we think about it.

“I don’t think that’s how the next administration will think about it, because our preference would be to work with this large bloc of countries,” Mr Obama said.

The president made it clear he believed it would be damaging for the British economy to quit the EU.

“If I am a business person or a worker in Britain, and I’m looking at the fact that I already have access seamlessly with a massive market, one of the wealthiest markets in the world, that accounts for 44% of my exports, the idea that I’m going to be in a better position to export and trade by being outside of that market and not being in the room setting the rules and standards by which trade takes place, I think is erroneous,” Mr Obama said.

The president also warned that the security of the West could be weakened by a British withdrawal which took it out of communications between Brussels and Washington.

“I think we will together be less effective if we’re not in those forums, than we are currently, where we’ve got this great ally who engages in unmatched co-operation, with us in the room negotiating.

“You know, things as simple as making sure that passenger lists are shared, it took a lot of years for us to be able to negotiate that with the European Parliament and EU, and our strongest advocate for getting that done was the UK, and it was extremely helpful.

“What we do believe is that the United Kingdom will have less influence in Europe and as a consequence, less influence globally, and since we rely heavily on the UK as a partner globally on a whole range of issues, we’d like you to have more influence. We’d like you to be at the table, helping to influence other countries who may not oftentimes see things as clearly from our perspective as our British partners do,” Mr Obama said.

Mr Obama rowed back from criticism that Prime Minister David Cameron became “distracted” after the military action in Libya as the country slipped into turmoil.

“Well, I think that we were all distracted. You know, that portion of my comments, I’m sure got attention here. What maybe got less attention was my statement that one of my regrets is not fully anticipating the degree of concentration of focus that would be required after the campaign to make sure that Gaddafi wasn’t killing his own people in Libya,” Mr Obama said.

The president heaped praise on his wife Michelle, saying: “I cannot separate anything that I’ve achieved from the partnership that I’ve had with that remarkable woman. So I could not be prouder of her, and I think it’s fair to say that anything good that I’ve done, she gets a shared billing.”

JEREMY CORBYN has met US President Barack Obama and described their discussion as “excellent”.

The Labour leader emerged from Lindley Hall, central London, after almost 90 minutes and told reporters the pair touched on a number of topics, including the European Union (EU) “very briefly”.

Mr Corbyn said Mr Obama congratulated him on being elected leader of the Labour Party.

Such a meeting between an American president and leader of the opposition would usually be routine during a trip to Britain stretching across three days, but Labour officials could only say in the past few days they “hoped” to announce a get-together was happening.

News of the meeting with Mr Corbyn, who opposes British military intervention in Syria, came as Mr Obama said the US and Britain were ready to take action to stop the Islamic State terror group securing a stronghold in Libya from which to launch attacks on Europe or America.

Mr Obama used the second full day of his visit to hold a “town hall-style” meeting where he will answer questions from ordinary Britons, and also visit London’s Globe Theatre to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare.

Speaking after talks with Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Street, Mr Obama stressed there were “no plans” to send ground troops into Libya to support the recently-established Government of National Accord (GNA).

But he said both the UK and US were determined to assist the administration of Fayez Serraj with technical help, training and advice to secure borders, drive out terrorists and rebuild Libya’s economy.

And he said that he and Mr Cameron would not sit back and wait while IS - also known as Isil or Daesh - built up its base in the coastal city of Sirte into a launchpad for atrocities against the West.

“There are no plans for ground troops in Libya,” said Mr Obama. “I don’t think it’s necessary. I don’t think it would be welcomed by this new government. It would send the wrong signal.

“This is a matter of ‘Can Libyans come together?’ What we can do is provide them with our expertise. What we can do is provide them with training. What we can do is provide them with a road-map for how they can get basic services to their citizens and build up legitimacy.

“But I do think that the one area where both David and I are heavily committed is that, as this progresses, we can’t wait if Isil is starting to get a foothold there.

“And so we are working - not just with the Libyan government but a lot of our international partners - to make sure that we are getting the intelligence that we need and in some cases taking action to prevent Isil from having another stronghold from which to launch attacks against Europe and the United States.”

Libya was top of the agenda at the talks in Downing Street and is expected to dominate a summit of the G5 group in Hanover, Germany, on Monday, at which Mr Cameron and Mr Obama will discuss security threats with chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Francois Hollande and Italian PM Matteo Renzi.

Speaking alongside Mr Obama at a press conference in the Foreign Office, Mr Cameron said: “There is no doubt that the situation in Libya is immensely challenging. But we now finally have a government of national accord with whom we can work.”

Together with EU partners, the US and UK want to work with the GNA to strengthen Libya’s coastguard to enable it to disrupt the people-trafficking gangs which are sending boatloads of migrants on the perilous sea journey to Europe, said the PM.

Mr Obama said both he and Mr Cameron were committed to try to assist the GNA, which he said was made up of people who were “genuinely committed to building back up the state”.

Both the US and UK were “more than prepared to invest” in helping the Libyan government create border security, deal with terrorism and promote prosperity, he said.

Mr Obama and Mr Cameron are due to meet again on Saturday evening, when US ambassador Matthew Barzun will host a private dinner for them at his official residence of Winfield House in Regent’s Park.

Earlier, Mr Obama said Britan should not assume it would trade easily with the United States if it leaves the EU, as he told voters the country would be sent to the “back of the queue”.

In a direct intervention on the upcoming EU referendum, the President said piecemeal deals with Britain would not be an efficient way of doing business and poured scorn on the ‘leave’ campaign’s assumption that the US would continue to be a willing trading partner.

Speaking during a joint press conference with David Cameron, President Obama said: “I think it’s fair to say that maybe some point down the line there might be a UK-US trade agreement but it’s not going to happen any time soon, because our focus is in negotiating with a big bloc of the EUropean Union to get a trade agreement done.

“And the UK is going to be in the back of the queue.”

Both heads of state used the occasion to discuss at length the UK and US’s much lauded “special relationship” and cemented their partnership once again before global media when fielding questions from the press on Syria and Libya.

Friendship has also blossomed between the pair during their terms of office, which have run almost concurrently with Mr Obama describing Mr Cameron as one of his most trusted partners.

This close relationship and the impact of Britain leaving the EU would have onUS prosperity, gave the President the temerity to weigh in on the debate, he said.

“As part of our special relationship, part of being friends, is to be honest and to let you know what I think,” he said.

“And speaking honestly, the outcome of that decision is a matter of deep interest to the United States because it affects our prospects as well. The United States wants a strong United Kingdom as its partner.

“The United Kingdom is at its best when it is helping to lead a strong Europe. It leverages UK power to be part of the European Union.”

In a day marred by veiled attacks from high profile politicians on the President’s Kenyan heritage, Mr Obama chose to confront the accusation his background interferes with his wishes for Britain by clearing up his views on Winston Churchill.

London mayor and cabinet member Boris Johnson, a key campaigner for the leave camp, was today accused of ‘dog whistle racism’ by Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell after he said some may think Mr Obama has an “ancestral dislike of the British Empire” because of his own heritage and because he had moved a bust of Churchill from the White House’s Oval Office.

Mr Obama said he had a bust of him outside the Treaty Room - his private office on the second floor of his official residence.

He said: “It’s there voluntarily because I can do anything on the second floor. I love the guy.”

UKIP leader Nigel Farage had earlier told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme he did not think Obama wanted Britain to be an “independent voice on the world stage”.

“I think Obama, because of his grandfather and Kenya and colonisation, I think Obama bears a bit of a grudge against this country,” he said.

President Obama brushed aside criticism he should not be intervening in British affairs.

He said: “This is a decision for the people of the United Kingdom to make. I’ve not come here to fix any votes. I’m not casting a vote myself. I’m offering an opinion and in democracies everyone should want more information not less. And they shouldn’t be afraid to hear an argument being made. That’s not a threat, that should enhance the debate.”

The President’s visit is said to have been a huge coup for David Cameron with bet makers Ladbrokes saying that 90% of the EU referendum bets placed in the last 48 hours have been for Remain.

His comments are expected to spark fury among those campaigning to leave the EU, however.

Co-founder of Vote Leave Richard Tice said that President Obama would not have the authority to “deny us a deal”, as he will be “long gone before any such proposals are on the table.”

Barack Obama has described Prince George as “adorable” after he met the two-year-old at Kensington Palace.

He also expressed his hope he would be as “engaging” as the Queen is as a lunch partner when he turns 90.

Prince George was allowed to stay up late on Friday when his mother and father hosted the US president and the first lady at Kensington Palace.

Before he was taken to bed, George showed the couple the rocking horse they gave him when he was born.

The prince, who was wearing check pyjamas and a white dressing gown, also showed them the stuffed toy they sent him when his sister Princess Charlotte was born.

Mr and Mrs Obama had earlier had lunch with the Queen, who celebrated her 90th birthday on Thursday.

Mr Obama told an audience at Lindley Hall in central London: “I guess you all know why I came this week. It’s no secret.

“Nothing was going to stop me from wishing happy birthday to her majesty and meeting George, who was adorable.

“Michelle and I had the privilege to visit with her majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh yesterday.

“I can’t tell you what we talked about. I can tell you that I hope I am such an engaging lunch partner when I am 90.”