Barack Obama warns against Brexit ‘hysteria’ in vote’s aftermath

Source: The Guardian

The US president said in an interview with NPR that a ‘pause button has been pressed’ on full European integration rather than drastic, immediate changes

Barack Obama has warned against financial and global hysteria after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, saying that while full European integration may be on pause, cataclysmic changes are unlikely.

“There’s been a little bit of hysteria post-Brexit vote, as if somehow Nato’s gone, the trans-Atlantic alliance is dissolving, and every country is rushing off to its own corner. That’s not what’s happening,” Obama told National Public Radio in an interview that aired on Tuesday.

Obama’s comments come as global financial markets recovered slightly on Tuesday after the shock result of Thursday’s vote wiped a record $3tn off shares worldwide. Still, trading was volatile even as policymakers vowed to protect their economies.

The vote also unleashed political chaos, prompting the resignation of British prime minister David Cameron, igniting uncertainty about the rest Europe, and raising concerns about democratic order in an era of globalization and rising populism.

US officials have said the American economy is strong enough to withstand the “headwinds” following Brexit and vowed to maintain its relationships with the United Kingdom and Europe.

Obama, who has said he respected the British voters’ decision even though he had opposed the move, in the interview on Tuesday said the vote has signaled that UK voters were reacting to a European Union that was growing too fast and “without as much consensus as it should have”.

“The best way to think about this is, a pause button has been pressed on the project of full European integration,” he told NPR.

“This will be a moment when all of Europe says, ‘Let’s take a breath and let’s figure out how do we maintain some of our national identities, how do we preserve the benefits of integration and how do we deal with some of the frustrations that our own voters are feeling’,” Obama said.

Asked about Obama’s warning that a Brexit vote would put Britain at the back of the trade queue, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said on Tuesday: “What is true is that the UK would not benefit from the years of progress we’ve made in negotiating a trade agreement with the EU.

“The UK does benefit from the special relationship they have with the United States, they benefit from the important economic relationship that already exists between our two countries but, if and when those negotiations were to start, they start in a different place because of the progress that we’ve already made in trying to complete an agreement with the EU.”

On Tuesday, House speaker Paul Ryan called on the US to pursue a free trade agreement with the UK once it has formally separated from the EU.

Earnest responded: “I think in terms of what additional steps could be taken to enhance the economic relationship between the United States and United Kingdom, it’s something that policy makers in both countries will have to consider in the years ahead and presumably that picture for that path forward will be clearer once it’s clear exactly how the UK will pursue the process of extricating itself from the UK.”

Earnest was also asked if the president favoured a new referendum on Brexit that would allow Britain to change its mind. “The British ambassador to the US was pretty definitive about the finality of this decision,” he said.

“The question of whether or not it could happen is something British leaders and British people will have to determine. It will be up to them to render a judgement about the path forward here. Our hope is the process, as it moves forward, will be orderly, will be as transparent as possible, and we have been pleased to see a commitment to those principles both by leaders in the UK and the EU.”

Earnest declined to comment directly on a possible second vote on Scottish independence but did say: “A united UK is in the best interests of the US. It makes them a stronger partner. It makes them more effective in contributing to the Nato alliance.”

He also emphasised the strength of the US-UK relationship in security matters. “The special relationship between the US and UK will endure. The close financial, economic, commercial and trade ties between the US and UK will remain. That’s good news because that’s critically important to both our economies. The UK-US defence partnership will remain strong.”

Reuters contributed to this report

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