Barack Obama and David Cameron hold a bilateral meeting during the G7 Summit at the European Council in Brussels. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Obama comes out against Scottish independence

US president says he wants the UK to remain "united" and that "it looks like things have worked pretty well".

With fewer than 100 days to go until the Scottish independence referendum, Better Together is claiming its biggest catch since David Bowie: Barack Obama. At his joint press conference with David Cameron at the G7 in Brussels, Obama said:

There is a referendum process in place and it is up to the people of Scotland.

The United Kingdom has been an extraordinary partner to us. From the outside at least, it looks like things have worked pretty well.

And we obviously have a deep interest in making sure that one of the closest allies we will ever have remains a strong, robust, united and effective partner.

Although he added that "ultimately these are decisions that are to be made by the folks there", he made no attempt to disguise where his sympathies lay.

Better Together was quick to respond with a mocked-up version of Obama's iconic 2008 campaign poster entitled "Nope" (see below).

Douglas Alexander said: “I welcome this important contribution by President Obama. His clear statement of support for the UK staying together will resonate with many of us here in Scotland.

“As a global statesman President Obama understands that interdependence is a defining feature of our modern world, and that building bridges, not putting up new barriers, is the challenge of our generation.”

But whether this will help to swing voters behind the No campaign, or instead be regarded as more unwanted foreign meddling, remains to be seen.

Obama also made it clear where he stands on the other referendum occupying Westminster, that promised by David Cameron on EU membership. He said it was "hard to imagine" how Britain would benefit from being outside of the organisation. Here's the full quote:

With respect to the EU, we share a strategic vision with Great Britain on a whole range of international issues and so it's always encouraging for us to know that Great Britain has a seat at the table in the larger European project.

I think in light of the events that we are going to be commemorating tomorrow, it's important to recall that it was the steadfastness of Great Britain that in part allows us to be here in Brussels in the seat of a unified and extraordinarily prosperous Europe.

It's hard for me to imagine that project going well in the absence of Great Britain and I think it's also hard for me to imagine that it would be advantageous for Great Britain to be excluded from political decisions that have an enormous impact on its economic and political life.

This is why we have elections, and we'll see the arguments made, and I'm sure the people of Great Britain will make the right decision.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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“It was like a religious ceremony”: What happened at Big Ben’s final bong?

Both inside and outside Parliament, people gathered to hear the clock’s final midday chime before undergoing repairs.

“It’s just hacks everywhere,” a photographer sighs, jamming his lens through a gap in Parliament’s railings to try and get a closer look.

New Palace Yard, Parliament’s courtyard directly below Big Ben, is filling with amused-looking journalists, waiting for the MPs who have promised to hold a “silent vigil”, heads bowed, to mark Big Ben’s final chime before four years of silence while the tower’s repaired.

About four of them turn up. Two by accident.

It’s five minutes to twelve. Tourists are gathering outside Westminster Tube, as tourists do best. A bigger crowd fills Parliament Square. More people than expected congregate outside, even if it’s the opposite within the Palace. The world and his phone are gazing up at the sad, resigned clock face.


“It’s quite controversial, isn’t it?” one elderly woman in an anorak asks her friend. They shrug and walk off. “Do you know what is this?” an Italian tourist politely asks the tiny press pack, gesturing to the courtyard. No one replies. It’s a good question.

“This is the last time,” says another tourist, elated, Instagram-poised.

“DING DONG DING DONG,” the old bell begins.

Heads down, phones up.


It finishes the on-the-hour tune for the last time, and then gives its much-anticipated resignation statement:

“BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG.”

Applause, cheers, and even some tears.


But while the silly-seasoned journalists snigger, the crowd is enthusiastic.

“It’s quite emotional,” says David Lear, a 52-year-old carer from Essex, who came up to London today with his work and waited 45 minutes beneath Big Ben to hear it chime.

He feels “very, very sad” that the bell is falling silent, and finds the MPs’ vigil respectful. “I think lots of people feel quite strongly about it. I don’t know why they’re doing it. During the war it carries on, and then they turn it off for a health and safety reason.”

“I don’t know why they can’t have some speakers half way down it and just play the chime,” he adds. “So many tourists come especially to listen to the chime, they gather round here, getting ready for it to go – and they’re going to switch it off. It’s crazy.”

Indeed, most of the surrounding crowd appears to be made up of tourists. “I think that it was gorgeous, because I’ve never heard him,” smiles Cora, an 18-year-old German tourist. “It was a great experience.”

An Australian couple in their sixties called Jane and Gary are visiting London for a week. “It was like a religious ceremony, everybody went quiet,” laughs Gary. “I hope they don’t forget where they put the keys to start it again in four years’ time.”

“When we first got here, the first thing we did was come to see it,” adds Jane, who is also positive about the MPs who turned up to watch. “I think it’s good they showed a bit of respect. Because they don’t usually show much respect, do they?”

And, as MPs mouthing off about Big Ben are challenged on their contrasting reactions to Grenfell, that is precisely the problem with an otherwise innocent show of sentimentality.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.