In a speech this evening, former Foreign Secretary Lord Owen will become the latest commentator backing Brexit to criticise US President Barack Obama’s intervention in the European Union referendum debate. He’ll argue that the British public will be ‘puzzled’ that the President is arguing for the UK to stay in the EU.
Lord Owen will say: “Many British people are puzzled, to say the least, why President Obama should, in the light of his and our failure to reform the Eurozone, come into the midst of our referendum campaign to urge us to remain in the EU, despite an impending collapse of the Eurozone which would impact far more on the UK than the US.”
Lord Owen’s speech will zero in on the issue of defence in Europe, arguing that European states are ‘sleepwalking in relation to security questions’ and that NATO would benefit from a strong, independent British voice.
His speech will add: “President Obama in his recent interview for the Atlantic magazine, correctly, openly criticised us in Europe for ‘freeloading’ on the NATO defence budget.
“It is clearly not tolerable for the U.S. voters that they should pay 73 per cent or 75 per cent of the NATO budget. That direction of travel has got to be corrected and soon. But it will not be done by the EU.
“While the EU is dysfunctional NATO is not. NATO would benefit today from a solely committed British voice not one hovering between it and EU defence.
“By the people's choice, not its elite, Denmark is not part of some EU treaty language on defence. A core priority after Brexit must be for the UK to strengthen NATO and help improve the Alliance’s capability to act cooperatively to preserve peace and security including dealing with ISIL.”
But on his visit to the UK today, President Obama voiced his opinion that Britain is stronger, safer and better off in the European Union. He said that our economy benefits from being part of Europe and - contrary to the view of Lord Owen - that our security does too.
Arguing in the Telegraph that Britain - and America’s - ability to tackle extremism is better if the UK remains part of the EU, President Obama said:“From the ashes of war, those who came before us had the foresight to create the international institutions and initiatives to sustain a prosperous peace: the United Nations and NATO; Bretton Woods, the Marshall Plan, and the European Union.
“Their efforts provided a foundation for democracy, open markets, and the rule of law, while underwriting more than seven decades of relative peace and prosperity in Europe.
“Today, we face tests to this order – terrorism and aggression; migration and economic headwinds – challenges that can only be met if the United States and the United Kingdom can rely on one another, on our special relationship, and on the partnerships that lead to progress.”
The speech comes on the same day that the Sun newspaper published a column from Conservative London Mayor Boris Johnson also hitting out at the US president’s intervention in the debate.
Mr Johnson wrote that President Obama’s view that Britain is stronger in Europe was seen by some as “a snub to Britain and a symbol of the part-Kenyan President’s ancestral dislike of the British empire – of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender.”
John Kerr, former British Ambassador to the United States and former British Representative to the European Union, defended President Obama’s right to voice an opinion in the debate. He said: “The US has an interest in Britain, its closest ally, being stronger, safer and better off in the EU – not weaker, out on its own.
“To claim that the American President has no right to say what he believes, and speak up for US political, economic and business interests is typical Boris bluff and bluster.”
Responding to Boris Johnson’s remarks, Sir Stephen Wall, who was British Permanent Representative to the European Union from 1995 to 2000, said:“Boris Johnson’s comment implying the President of the United States is driven by his ancestral dislike of the British empire is demeaning to the debate.
“Using that type of language does not reflect Britain’s standing in the world or the country we aspire to be.
“As our most important ally, President Obama has the right to offer his view and he has made it clear that being in Europe magnifies British influence and enhances Britain’s global leadership.”
British voters will have the chance to have their say on the issue of Britain’s membership of the European Union on 23 June when the country goes to the polls to decide the issue.