(CNSNews.com) – President Obama has kicked off his visit to Britain with a public appeal for the country to remain in the European Union, an intervention that is drawing strong criticism from prominent supporters of the campaign to leave the E.U.
Just two months before a referendum on the politically-charged issue, Obama in an op-ed published in London’s Daily Telegraph on Thursday evening – as predicted – made his stance clear.
“[Ultimately, the question of whether or not the U.K. remains a part of the E.U. is a matter for British voters to decide for yourselves,” he conceded.
However, speaking “with a candor of a friend,” Obama continued, “the outcome of your decision is a matter of deep interest to the United States.”
He went on to argue points in favor of Britain remaining in the 28-member union.
“The European Union doesn’t moderate British influence – it magnifies it. A strong Europe is not a threat to Britain’s global leadership; it enhances Britain’s global leadership,” Obama wrote.
“The United States sees how your powerful voice in Europe ensures that Europe takes a strong stance in the world, and keeps the E.U. open, outward looking, and closely linked to its allies on the other side of the Atlantic. So the U.S. and the world need your outsized influence to continue – including within Europe.”
The op-ed was posted as Obama flew in from Saudi Arabia for a three-day visit that will include talks with Prime Minister David Cameron – who wants the U.K. to remain in Europe – and a lunch with Queen Elizabeth on the day after the monarch’s 90th birthday.
Reaction from prominent supporters of the campaign to leave the E.U. was swift in coming.
Iain Duncan Smith, a senior member of Cameron’s Conservative Party and a former cabinet minister and party leader, was quoted as saying that while he respects Obama’s and his predecessors’ protection of American sovereignty, “what I do find strange is that he is asking the British people to accept a situation that he patently would not recommend to the American population.”
Duncan Smith suggested that Obama would never accept the U.S. being bound by foreign court decisions or by taxes not approved by Congress.
“If he believes it would be unacceptable for the American people – those he is actually elected to guide – I fail to see how it is appropriate for him to recommend that the British people continue to relinquish their right to democratic self-governance.”
As long ago as last June, Obama expressed his preference for Britain staying in the E.U. – and predicted that the referendum would deliver that outcome.
“We very much are looking forward to the United Kingdom staying a part of the European Union, because we think that its influence is positive not just for Europe, but also for the world,” he said alongside a smiling Cameron on the sidelines of a G7 summit in Germany.
Even before Thursday’s op-ed appeared, Obama’s expected intervention prompted sharp protest.
Kate Hoey, an opposition Labor Party lawmaker, said that both supporters of the campaign to leave the E.U. – such as herself – and those wanting to stay in the E.U. found Obama’s anticipated input “insulting, patronizing and hypocritical.”
“While it is natural that Obama should have an opinion on this crucial matter, he of all people must see how bad it looks that he is travelling thousands of miles to lecture a foreign power on its destiny,” she wrote.
“There is no way that the ‘land of the free’ would ever share its sovereignty with a remote and unaccountable block of nations,” Hoey argued. “This is what makes Obama’s intervention so hard to swallow.”
London Mayor Boris Johnson, another prominent Conservative who has broken with the prime minister over the E.U. issue, also characterized Obama’s stance as hypocritical.
“I think that President Obama has got a perfect right to make any intervention that he wants. Indeed I welcome the views of everybody in this debate,” Johnson told the BBC at the weekend.
“But I just find it absolutely bizarre that we are being lectured by the Americans about giving up our sovereignty, giving up control, when the Americans won’t even sign up to the international Convention on the Law of the Sea, and – let alone the International Criminal Court.”
The Americans, Johnson said, “wouldn’t dream of sharing sovereignty.”
Recent polling finds the two camps – “Leave” and “Remain” – virtually neck and neck, with the campaign pushing to stay in the E.U. marginally ahead.
There was no immediate reaction to Obama’s op-ed from the “Remain” campaign, but it did draw attention to it on its Twitter feed, calling it a “MUST READ.”