At CPAC on Friday, Nigel Farage, a key leader of the “Leave” campaign which resulted in UK voters choosing in June 2016 to leave the European Union, reminded attendees and the world of something that the U.S. press has virtually failed to acknowledge: that then-U.S. President Obama was instrumental in his effort’s success. Two months before the vote, Obama, in a UK speech, promised that a “Leave” victory would move the UK “to the back of the queue” in future trade negotiations — after which polling, which had shown “Remain” with a big lead, moved into a dead heat.
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Obama must have believed that his petulant threat directed at a very special ally would persuade its electorate to stay the course. Instead, his statement at a critical point in the campaign caused UK voters who might otherwise not have done so to consider the idea of leaving the EU as plausible, and galvanized the “Leave” effort’s advocates in a way that perhaps no statement from a domestic advocate or opponent could have.
Transcript (bolds are mine throughout this post):
NIGEL FARAGE: We were told by many of the commentators — any of this ring familiar with you guys? — we were told by the commentators that we couldn’t do it. And they lined up, all of the big businesses, all of the big banks, all of the big politics, not just from Britain, but from across the world.
You know, we even had a visit from the 44th president of the United States (crowd boos) of America.
I will to my dying day be grateful that President Obama came to my country, intervened in the referendum, and told the United Kingdom’s people, told America’s greatest friend and ally in the world, told us that if we voted to get our independence we would go to the back of the line. (crowd boos)
And the British people, and the British people were so disgusted by Obama treating us like this that it put us up 2 percent in the polls. (Crowd cheers)
So I should always be, I should always be grateful to Obama.
So the great day came, 23rd of June, 2016. And by 3:00 in the morning, it was clear.
What “was clear” is that UK voters had decided to leave the EU by a nearly four-point margin, shocking the elites worldwide, among them Obama and his White House:
Here is what Obama said in a joint press conference on April 22, 2016 with then-UK Prime Minister David Cameron:
Particularly because my understanding is that some of the folks on the other side have been ascribing to the United States certain actions we’ll take if the UK does leave the EU. So they say, for example, that, well, we’ll just cut our own trade deals with the United States. So they’re voicing an opinion about what the United States is going to do. I figured you might want to hear it from the President of the United States what I think the United States is going to do. (Laughter.)
And on that matter, for example, I think it’s fair to say that maybe some point down the line, there might be a UK-U.S. trade agreement, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon, because our focus is in negotiating with a big bloc, the European Union, to get a trade agreement done, and the UK is going to be in the back of the queue — not because we don’t have a special relationship, but because, given the heavy lift on any trade agreement, us having access to a big market with a lot of countries — rather than trying to do piecemeal trade agreements is hugely inefficient.
Farage is absolutely right about what happened in the Brexit referendum polling shortly after Obama’s April 22, 2016 speech. As seen in the first of two graphics below, several polls after Obama’s speech showed “Leave” with the 2-point advantage Farage cited. The second graphic reinforces the seismic effect Obama’s speech had on the “average of the main polls of public opinion”:
Concerning the first table, the majority of polling showed “Remain” in the lead during 2016, occasionally by huge margins — until Obama’s speech. The polls remained generally tight until the week before the election. In an indication that pollsters may have been trying to influence the result instead of genuinely measuring public opinion, 9 of 12 final-week polls showed “Remain” ahead, a couple by margins as large as 8-10 points; the remaining three showed “Leave” with a tiny lead.
The second table shows what happened in just a few days as a result of Obama’s speech. “Remain” had just moved into by far its biggest “main polls” lead of the year. Then Obama’s speech caused “Remain” support to suddenly crumble, while “Leave” support barely budged. This indicates that Obama’s speech shook up people who had previously been sure that they would vote to remain, and caused them to reconsider. After that, it’s clear that “Remain” supporters, with that Obama-supportive millstone around their necks, failed to make their case.
Never known as a gracious loser, Obama turned his threat into a promise after the “Leave” victory in early September. Coverage at the time at the UK Independent acknowledged what the U.S. press has almost never admitted — that Obama’s arrogant intervention, in addition to helping the “Leave” cause, had “tainted” the UK-US relationship:
… In a blow to Brexiteers’ hopes of a quick trade deal with the US, he (Obama) stood by his comment that the UK was now at the “back of the queue” for trade talks.
Speaking at the G20 Summit alongside Theresa May, he said the US trade negotiations with the EU was his priority.
Mr Obama said: “… We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that the consequences of the [Brexit] decision don’t end up unravelling what is already a very strong and robust economic relationship.”
Mr Obama gave a warm welcome to Mrs May at her first big international summit, but the meeting was tainted by Mr Obama’s intervention during the referendum campaign in which he said the UK would go to the “back of the queue” for trade talks.
The only problem with Obama’s September remarks is that the person he hoped would succeed him isn’t around to carry out his promise. His successor, Donald Trump, has pledged to do a quick and fair US-UK trade deal. One of the reasons Mrs. Clinton didn’t win is that Obama’s UK Brexit vote intervention gave legs to the grass-roots revolt against the political and business elites that has grown in so many Western countries, including the U.S. The June Brexit vote instantly made a Donald Trump victory in November seem far more plausible.
Here’s another point the U.S. establishment media won’t acknowledge, and wants everyone to forget: Obama made the U.S. general election, which Trump won and Hillary Clinton lost, a referendum on his eight years in office. Voters in 30 states voted to “leave” the type of governance they had seen out of Washington during the past eight years. Obama, with his heavy and historically unprecedented involvement during the final weeks supporting Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, ensured that his legacy was effectively on the ballot. His legacy lost.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.
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