Obama should not have weighed in on the “Brexit”

U.S. President Barack Obama looks on as German Chancellor Angela Merkel tests VR goggles when touring the Hannover Messe, the world's largest industrial technology trade fair, in Hannover, northern Germany, Monday, April 25, 2016. Obama is on a two-day official visit to Germany. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

President Obama recently weighed in on the United Kingdom’s upcoming June referendum on whether the island nation should remain in the European Union. Obama claimed that a “Brexit” (a British exit from the EU) would be bad both for the United Kingdom and for U.S.-U.K. relations. He suggested that the U.K. would be a less important ally out of the EU and threatened that the U.S. might not offer Britain trade deals if they left the EU. These remarks are inappropriate. The president should not have weighed in on this issue, one that vitally concerns the national interests of our mother country and ally. Of course, the U.S. has interests involved in this decision, but the president should treat Britain’s sovereignty with greater respect and refrain from issuing threats.

President Obama tried to explain his speaking out, by saying, “But as part of our special relationship, part of being friends, is to be honest and to let you know what I think,” as reported by CNN. Yet telling the British people that a Britain outside the EU would be a less important ally and might not receive trade deals sounds less like a friend sharing their opinion and more like a threat from a more powerful nation. Our president should not be in the business of making statements on another nation’s decision on whether it should belong to an international government, especially a nation with which we share such great cultural, economic and political affinity. 

Furthermore, this decision vitally concerns Britain’s sovereignty. The U.K. has delegated a large degree of its authority to a supranational regional government, something the U.S. would never do. We have rightly been zealous guardians of the sovereignty of the people of the United States and have rejected the authority of international bodies over our domestic affairs. While we would never submit ourselves to the kind of authority the U.K. currently grants to the EU, President Obama has taken it upon himself to lecture the British people on the course they should take. There is something amiss in a president telling a foreign people to submit to a political arrangement his own people would find degrading and unsuitable. Though we may have an interest in Britain’s referendum, whether the U.K. decides to continue the current arrangement or leave the EU is not our concern. We should allow the British people to determine for themselves whether they consider EU membership to be an impermissible infringement on their sovereignty or not, without offering unwanted recommendations and threats.

The president’s comments are particularly inappropriate given our own national history. Our independence, which we justly celebrate each July 4, resulted from a decision that we wished to terminate a political union we deemed disadvantageous. Furthermore, prior to the American Revolution, the U.S. had not been recognized as a sovereign state. The inhabitants of the eastern coast of North America were subjects of the sovereignty of Great Britain. It was in 1776 that we revolutionarily affirmed the independent sovereignty of the several states of America and declared our right to disband the prevailing political union.

The U.K., an already recognized sovereignty, has even more right to direct its own political destiny. It is bitterly ironic that the people that rebelled from Britain in defense of self-government is now lecturing Britain as it exercises its own right to national self-determination. While President Obama does not challenge Britain’s right to make this decision for itself, his comments are an inappropriate intrusion on the British people’s decision. Given our deep ties with Britain, there is no reason for trade deals not to be forthcoming. Obama’s threat is an uncalled-for attempt to influence a decision we should stay out of. We would resent granting any international body authority over our domestic affairs. We should not be telling Britain to submit to a condition we would refuse to subject ourselves to. The decision on whether to remain in the EU is Britain’s, and Britain’s alone. 


Brian McCarty is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at brian.mccarty@uconn.edu.