This month Barack Obama visits the UK possibly for the last time as President. During this visit he is expected to publicly announce his support for Britain staying in the EU. This has been widely briefed and has drawn a mixed reaction from campaigners on both sides of the debate. Figures such as William Hague and Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond have openly stated they think Obama is well within his rights to share his opinion, but advocates of Brexit strongly disagree.
Boris Johnson has accused Obama of ‘hypocrisy’ and UKIP leader Nigel Farage called him ‘the most anti-British President in US history’. A letter organised by former Defence Secretary Liam Fox advising Obama to stay out of the debate has gained the support of over 100 MPs. The letter says “It has long been the established practice not to interfere in the domestic political affairs of our allies and we hope that this will continue.” However not all are worried by Obama’s involvement. For instance Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg rates Obama as a failed President and believes his stance would actually help the Brexit cause.
According to the polls this is not a view shared by the British public. A poll from Pew Research in June 2015 found 76% of British voters trusted him ‘to do the right thing regarding world affairs’ and an older poll conducted by YouGov in September 2014 gave Obama a net approval rating of + 49 in the UK. For any politician, these numbers are hugely impressive and they indicate Obama is both liked and trusted in this country.
Barack Obama brings an element of stardust with him whenever he visits this country. He is well-respected and voters listen to him when he talks. If and when Obama chooses to involve himself with this debate, he is likely to have an impact. With a significant proportion of the electorate still undecided, Obama could convert a number of voters to the ‘Remain’ cause. The debate will continue over whether he should get involved, but if he does speak-out then it will be significant and important and may be a game-changer.
Article by Mike Hough
Photograph – The Daily Beast