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Analysis
Globalisation and the UK

Globalisation and the UK

Focus on the US and international community

by Marsha Vande Berg in San Francisco

Thu 24 Mar 2016

US President Barack Obama, when he comes to London in April, will support British Prime Minister David Cameron’s bid to keep the UK in the European Union. This is welcome, but arguably of little help. The president’s remarks may pit Uncle Sam against a leading proponent of Brexit, Boris Johnson, the colourful and popular mayor of London.

This could further skew the debate, by displaying harmful sentimentality about the ‘good old days’ of the allegedly special relationship between the UK and its long-lost former colony.

Within hours of a public comment by Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the US senate foreign relations committee, that Obama will probably use his UK visit to speak out against Brexit, London’s mayor was on the hustings.

A probable challenger for Conservative party leadership should Cameron fall on the Brexit sword, Johnson said support from the White House would be nothing short of hypocrisy.

Obama’s position – regarded as paralleling that taken in 2014 by the White House against Scottish independence – ties Britain’s membership of the EU to its transatlantic and global influence. Such a position coming from Uncle Sam, Johnson is quoted as saying, is ‘wholly fallacious’ and a ‘piece of outrageous and exorbitant hypocrisy’.

America’s relationship with Britain seems destined to become a major focus for one of Brexit’s leading campaigners. This will further blur the lines for an electorate caught between, on the one hand, political demagoguery and, on the other, the compelling logic of building further the trade and business ties between the UK, Europe and the global community.

It is well known that 50% of Britain’s exports go to the EU, the world’s largest trading bloc. London’s globally-leading financial services are intricately intertwined with Europe’s and the world’s financial centres. Noteworthy is a recent comment favouring UK EU membership by Douglas Flint, the HSBC chairman. Were Brexit to succeed, he said, HSBC could readily shift operations from London to Paris.

On the political front, Brexit could trigger another push for independence by the Scots, not to mention additional unrest in Ireland. If the UK leaves, there would be precious little left in terms of political energy to tackle the matters that really count in the UK – a volatile economy, social inequality, education and the workforce, immigration and terrorism.

These are the big issues on which the western world’s leaders and electorates should be focusing. The true realities of this century require the UK to remain fully connected with the US and a globalised world. And this is best accomplished if Britain stays in the EU.

Marsha Vande Berg is a Senior Fellow with the Harvard Law School Program for International Financial Systems and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She is a member of the OMFIF Advisory Board. This is No.19 in the series.

OMFIF’s series on the UK EU referendum presents a wide variety of perspectives from Britain and around the world ahead of the 23 June poll. We are assuring a balance between many different points of view, in line with OMFIF’s overall neutral stance on the issue.

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