5 Jun 2014

Obama: EU and UK – better together

Well, the Better Together campaign had been looking for some endorsements from outside Scottish politics and they just landed a whopper.

President Obama obliged David Cameron with an endorsement of the no campaign:

“…the United Kingdom has been an extraordinary partner to us. From the outside at least, it looks like things have worked pretty well.

“We obviously have a deep interest in making sure one of the closest allies we will ever remains a strong, robust, united and effective partner.”

He did it at a G7 press conference in Brussels after a bi-lateral with David Cameron. He did it with the customary disclaimers and caveats – it’s your country, your business, etc – but he did it nonetheless.

You can tell the words had weight by the heavy incoming fire from yes campaigners.

Attacks on the US over Guantanamo and Drones from the Scottish Socialists, mocking David Cameron in asking for such a favour from the Scottish National Collective.

Andrew Wilson, fomer SNP MSP, said he thought if President Obama lived in Scotland he’d be on the side of hope not fear.

The Labour MP and no campaigner Anas Sarwar had already tweeted this image to mark the occasion:

The move is not without its dangers. President Clinton spoke out against Quebec separatists in the nail-biting 1995 referendum and it’s far from clear it helped the Canadian unionist cause.

President Obama also waded in to a referendum that hasn’t been formally called yet.

In the in/out EU referendum promised by David Cameron for 2017 if he’s re-elected, President Obama backed the in camp.

He thought the UK would suffer outside the EU, the EU would badly miss the UK, and the the US would miss the UK not being in the EU.

This was stronger stuff than the President has personally delivered before.

It was also maybe a shade stronger than David Cameron feels comfortable delivering. He always emphasises we stay if terms are renegotiated to our satisfaction. President Obama wasn’t talking about a renegotiation, just that membership made sense and leaving didn’t.

This triggered reaction from anti-Europeans who in many cases share very little with the Scottish activists angry at his other endorsement.

Before President Obama delivered his eye-catching stuff on the UK, much of the talk in Brussels was about the European Commission presidency.

Chancellor Merkel in her press conference after the G7 gave opaque answers to question about whether she still backed Mr Juncker for the job. But she did appear to be saying that whilst she was supporting Juncker still, it was important not to violate the spirit of the EU and the issues needed to be prepared carefully.

What does that mean?

The UK can’t be 100 per cent sure that Chancellor Merkel will help them out and block Junker. But they derive hope from a process she is backing, in which the EU tries to define what reforms it wants from the next European Commission boss and then sees if the current candidate is up to that task.

Brussels sources say they think Chancellor Merkel is working to put together a job description that Juncker can’t fit.

His moment, they argue, is fast passing. His tetchiness as he was door-stepped today (surrounded by an entourage big enough to suggest he’s already got the job) suggests it is in fact slipping from his grasp with every passing day. David Cameron dearly needs that to happen having nailed his anti-Juncker colours to the mast.

Obama can’t help him out of this one.

UPDATE: First Minister Alex Salmond has now responded to the US President’s words, saying it’s for the “folks in Scotland” to decide and “yes we can.”

If you’re wondering “why today?” for the Obama endorsement, the calendar only gives one other moment when the President and the PM are side by side in a press conference and that will be at the NATO summit in Wales, only two weeks before the Scottish referendum.

An intervention at a sensitive point like that would look very heavy-handed indeed.

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