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Doubtlessly confident of success, David Cameron welcomed Barack Obama to England for a three-day visit. The American president saw the European Union as a useful US ally, and his arrival amounted to a campaign event in favor of the United Kingdom’s continued membership. It was a very public and unprecedented intervention. And, at a time when Eurocrats themselves were trying to keep some distance, it involved an external leader with no obvious direct stake in the outcome.
Nevertheless, Washington had selfish interests in continued British influence in Brussels. Because, since 1973, the UK had consistently acted as America’s voice at the European table. Indeed, it was for that very reason Charles DeGaulle strained to keep London out of the club in his working lifetime. As the legendary French statesman always insisted that Britain would act as a ‘Trojan horse’ for American interests.
And this fear was vindicated around the turn of the century when Downing Street pushed for rapid expansion into Eastern Europe to lock former Warsaw Pact states in the ‘Western’ club. A project enthusiastically supported by Washington, which increasingly perceived the EU as an adjunct to its NATO military alliance, but less warmly embraced by Germany, Italy, and France. Ironically, the massive migration unleashed by the extension would ultimately become one of the main catalysts for Britain’s exit. If not the principal one.
Never short of confidence, Obama strutted into London wielding more stick than carrot. During a joint news conference with Cameron, he sternly told assembled journalists how Britain would 'go to the back of the queue' if it left the European Union and then tried to negotiate its own trade deal with the United States. Liberal UK media seized on this as part of their attempts to scare voters into backing ‘remain.’
On the contrary, Obama’s arrival was met with derision by the anti-EU media. Thus, surely aware of this, the president justified his interference by invoking the spirit of the Second World War. He claimed the sacrifice of GIs meant America had a share in Europe’s future direction and stability. The BBC and the Guardian enthusiastically embraced Obama's message.
Which makes it all the more bizarre when this week we see the latter not only alleging how Vladimir Putin meddled in Brexit, for which there is no actual evidence, but splashing it across their ‘morning briefing.’ Because if American suffering gives them a “stake” in Europe, by that logic, they may as well deliver the keys to the entire continent to Moscow, or perhaps even Minsk.