Support 110 years of independent journalism.

The Brexiters are foolish to pick a fight with Barack Obama

The US president is a popular and trusted figure in the UK. Opponents of his EU stance should behave with dignity.

By George Eaton

In advance of his visit to the UK next week, the Brexiters have a new target in their sights: Barack Obama. Nigel Farage has described him as “the most anti-British American president there has ever been” (James Madison, who declared war on the UK in 1812, may contest that), adding that he hopes he will be replaced by someone “rather more sensible when it comes to trading relationships with this country”. Boris Johnson has denounced Obama as “plainly hypocritical”.

The cause of the Brexiters’ ire is the US president’s intention to repeat his view that the UK should remain in the EU. Many regard it as illegitimate for him to hold an opinion on the referendum (though they are rarely shy of offering theirs on his country and appear remarkably relaxed by Donald Trump’s intervention). To regret Obama’s behaviour is one thing, to actively attack it is another.

Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg has suggested that the US president’s stance “helps Brexit”. The evidence suggests not. As Sunder Katwala, the director of British Future, has noted, Obama is, and has long been, popular in the UK. Polled by Pew Resarch in June 2015, 76 per cent of British voters trusted him “to do the right thing regarding world affairs” (and most probably judge the US to have a passing interest in our EU membership). In September 2014, YouGov found that he had a net approval rating of +49 in the UK, compared to David Cameron’s -12. Rees-Mogg’s belief that the public will “[not] want to be told what to do by a rather unsuccessful American president” looks hopeful at best.

The Leave side should behave with dignity during Obama’s final UK visit as president – and hope that few notice his intervention. By attacking him, they only lend greater prominence to it. And for Farage – one of the most unpopular politicians in the country – to do so, only serves to confirm that he is the Remain side’s not-so secret weapon.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Content from our partners
What you need to know about private markets
Work isn't working: how to boost the nation's health and happiness
The dementia crisis: a call for action

Topics in this article :