On June 23, the people of Britain will decide whether they wish to remain in the European Union. The central concern of those who advocate for a “Brexit” is that the EU intervenes too much in their nation’s democratic decision-making. On Thursday, President Obama tried to win over these skeptical Brits … by intervening in their democratic decision-making.
In an op-ed for The Daily Telegraph, Obama informed U.K. readers that, while it’s obviously their decision, the outcome of their vote “is a matter of deep interest to the United States.” The president argued that European coordination on intelligence, counterterrorism, and establishing pro-growth trade policies would all be more effective if Britain remains in the union. In establishing his standing for making such an argument, Obama threw down the “we saved your arses in World War II” card, writing, “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.”
London mayor Boris Johnson, a leader of the anti-EU movement, did not appreciate this advice. The conservative mayor highlighted the hypocrisy of America’s position in an editorial for The Sun:
The US guards its democracy with more hysterical jealousy than any other country on earth. It is not just that the Americans refuse to recognise the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, or that they have refused to sign up to the International Convention on the Law of the Sea. America is the only country in the world that has so far failed to sign up to the UN convention on the rights of the child, or the UN convention on the emancipation of women.
For the United States to tell us in the UK that we must surrender control of so much of our democracy – it is a breathtaking example of the principle of do-as-I-say-but-not-as-I-do.
Here, Johnson makes a fair point. Elsewhere, he made an unfair one, invoking the right-wing myth that Obama once removed a bust of Winston Churchill from the White House in a spasm of anti-colonialist rage. While arguing that Churchill would have resented Obama’s op-ed, Johnson noted that some believe the president removed Churchill’s bust as "a symbol of the part-Kenyan President’s ancestral dislike of the British empire."
Churchill’s grandson, member of Parliament Nicholas Soames, did not appreciate Johnson’s editorial.
But Johnson was not alone in being peeved by Obama’s meddling.
Even some supporters of the president’s position found his advocacy unhelpful.
Prime Minister David Cameron, however, called Obama’s input “important” because the U.S. is “one of our closest allies.” Cameron is leading the campaign to keep Britain in the EU. So far, he appears to be winning: Forecasters currently put the probability of a Brexit at a mere 20 percent.