Britain would not be able to strike a free trade deal with the US “any time soon” if it leaves the EU, as Washington’s focus would be on reaching agreement with the European Union, said US President Barack Obama.
Mr Obama was speaking after Downing St talks with British prime minister David Cameron during a two-day visit which he has used to speak out in favour of continued UK membership of the 28-nation bloc after the June 23 referendum.
At a joint press conference in the British Foreign Office, Mr Cameron insisted that the special relationship between the UK and US was not “constrained” by Britain’s EU membership.
EU membership gave Britain “a powerful tool” to stand up for the values it shares with the US, said Mr Cameron, adding: “Now, I think, is a time to stay true to those values, and to stick together with our friends and allies in Europe and around the world.”
Mr Obama said the UK would be “in the back of the queue” for a trade deal if it left the EU, because the US would focus on the bigger bloc.
The US president stressed the referendum was a “decision for the people of the United Kingdom” and he was “not coming here to fix any votes”.
But he defended his right to offer an opinion, saying: “In democracies everybody should want more information, not less, and you shouldn’t be afraid to hear an argument being made — that’s not a threat, that should enhance the debate.
“Particularly because my understanding is that some of the folks on the other side have been ascribing to the United States certain actions we will take if the UK does leave the EU.
“They say, for example, that ‘we will just cut our own trade deals with the United States’.
“So they are voicing an opinion about what the United States is going to do. I figured you might want to hear from the president of the United States what I think the United States is going to do.
“And on that matter, for example, I think it’s fair to say that maybe some point down the line there might be a UK-US trade agreement, but it’s not going to happen any time soon because our focus is in negotiating with a big bloc, the European Union, to get a trade agreement done.
“The UK is going to be in the back of the queue.”
Trying to do “piecemeal trade agreements” was “hugely inefficient”, he said.
Setting out the choice facing Britain, the president said: “If, right now, I have got access to a massive market where I sell 44% of my exports and now I’m thinking about leaving the organisation that gives me access to that market and that is responsible for millions of jobs in my country and responsible for an enormous amount of commerce and upon which a lot of businesses depend — that’s not something I would probably do.”
Responding to Mr Obama’s comments, the co-founder of the Leave.EU campaign, Richard Tice, said: “We don’t have a trade deal with the United States now because we’re members of the European Union.
“The proposed EU-US trade deal, TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), would be disastrous for British workers.
“Obama doesn’t have the authority to deny us a deal, as he will be long gone before any such proposals are on the table.”
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