Obama faces backlash after warning U.K. against leaving EU

There is strong reaction in Britain today to comments made by U.S. President Barack Obama. He said Britain would be at the "back of the queue" when it comes to U.S. trade deals if it leaves the European Union.

At London youth event, U.S. president pushes diplomacy over force

U.S. President Barrack Obama takes part in a town hall meeting at Lindley Hall in London on Saturday. (Stefan Wermuth/Reuters)

Some people are reacting strongly to comments made by U.S. President Barack Obama as he urged Britain to stay in the European Union.

On Friday, at the start of a three-day state visit to the U.K, he said Britain would be at the "back of the queue" when it comes to U.S. trade deals if it leaves the EU after the June 23 referendum on the issue. He said the U.S. would "focus on negotiating with a big bloc, the European Union, to get a trade agreement done."

Some of the reaction could be seen in the headlines of U.K. papers on Saturday, including one that described the comment as "Obama's EU ultimatum." Another said "Obama tells Britain: quit EU and you're on your own." A third said "Obama's amazing threat to Britain."

Walter Ladwig, a lecturer in international relations at London's King College, says Obama's comment, made at a joint news conference with Prime Minister David Cameron, was perceived in the British media as a "naked threat."

However, Ladwig said the U.S. president's op-ed piece in the Daily Telegraph on Friday, in which he referred to the "spirited" campaign for and against EU membership, was better received.

In the article, Obama talked about the "special relationship" between the U.S. and U.K. He also said "the question of whether or not the U.K. remains a part of the EU is a matter for British voters to decide for yourselves."

London mayor calls comment 'hypocritical'

London Mayor Boris Johnson wrote a reaction piece for The Sun newspaper in London, urging Britons to ignore Obama and back the so-called Brexit campaign.

"Americans would never contemplate anything like the EU for themselves or for their neighbours in their own hemisphere. Why should they think it right for us?" he wrote.

Johnson continued his attack on Obama's comment on Friday as he spoke to reporters: "It is very odd, it is perverse, it is hypocritical."

On Saturday, Obama attended a youth event in London. There, he urged the next generation of British leaders to give serious thought to how they solve problems, turning a light-hearted question about priorities for his successor into a treatise on his preference for diplomacy over military conflict.

Obama said keeping U.S. citizens safe is his top priority and he suggested that it should also top the list for whomever Americans elect in November due, in part, to the threat posed by the Islamic State group and other extremist organizations.

Prince George keeps a close eye on his father, Prince William, while shaking hands with U.S. President Barack Obama at Kensington Palace on Friday. (Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images)

How those issues are handled is important, he said. Leaders need to recognize "that security is not just a matter of military actions but is a matter of the messages we send and the institutions that we build and the diplomacy that we engage in and the opportunities that we present to people," Obama said in a question-and-answer session with young leaders. Such events are a staple of his foreign travels.

"That is going to be important for the next president of the United States and any global leader to recognize," Obama said.

Obama held up the recent nuclear deal with Iran as an example of the power of diplomacy over force. "Doing so without going to war is something I'm very proud of," he said.

The question, however, was about priorities for his successor and the audience applauded loudly when the questioner suggested that person will be a "she," as in Democrat Hillary Clinton, or "could be Bernie," a reference to the other Democrat still in the race, Bernie Sanders.

Thousands of demonstrators protest against the planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, ahead of a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama in Hannover, Germany, on Saturday. (Markus Schreiber/Associated Press)

Obama opened his last full day in London by taking in a brief performance cribbed from William Shakespeare's Hamlet, including portions of the prince of Denmark's famous "To be or not to be" soliloquy.

The performance was part of Obama's tour of the Globe theatre — his way of participating in widespread commemorations of the Bard on the 400th anniversary of the playwright's death.

Obama also planned to meet with Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn before ending Saturday at a dinner with Prime Minister David Cameron and U.S. Ambassador Matthew Barzun at the envoy's government residence.

Obama heads to Germany on Sunday for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel and other top European leaders. He was also scheduled to help Merkel open the world's largest industrial technology trade show on Monday before he heads back to Washington.

With files from The Associated Press


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