How should Foreign Leaders approach contentious Political Issues in other countries? Two perspectives.

Luke Rawcliffe & Sam Fearnley

By Pete Souza -, Public Domain,

By Pete Souza –, Public Domain,

Barack Obama recently intervened in the UK’s debate over membership of the EU, arguing in favour of Britain remaining a member. But in an increasingly globalised world, how should foreign leaders approach national questions such as this?

Proceed with caution: a balanced approach is key – Sam Fearnley

It would be foolish to force Obama to keep quiet on the issue, but it is also important that leaders maintain a somewhat nonpartisan approach. Cutting the balance between these two states is difficult, but not impossible.

President Obama undoubtedly has an influence on the outcome of the UK’s EU referendum. Undecided voters are likely to be vital in the end referendum vote, and, in a recent survey 11 per cent of undecided voters believed ‘Obama said so’ to be a valid reason for a ‘remain’ vote.

One of the ongoing issues with conversation about the EU referendum is just how little we know. Politicians and commentators are having to prefix many of their statements with ‘nobody knows exactly what will happen’: we can only guess, and this is where Obama (and the opinions of other foreign leaders) come in particularly handy. As Obama noted in his remarks, this allows British voters to hear directly what the US government values in the UK’s relationship with the EU.

But ‘Brexiteers’ are concerned just about this ability to sway the undecided. They argue that America (and its representative in Obama) should have no say, given that they do not suffer under any of the EU’s bureaucracy or unaccountability. In fact, according to CapX, a British online news outlet, very few Americans would support an EU-style union for their own country.

Only 29 per cent would support an agreement which would give citizens of Mexico the right to live and work in the US, and only 19 per cent would welcome a Canadian-Mexican-US court which would decide human rights questions in the three countries.

Only 34 per cent would support a free trade pact with the EU, but many US corporations use London and the UK as an entry point into EU markets, without having to pay membership fees, or surrender any sovereignty or control of legislature.

In order to eschew any commentators giving them the epithet of protectionist, the pro-Brexit crowd is proposing that instead of being tied down by various trade agreements and regulations, we should instead cast our net wider, to countries with fast growing economies, such as Brazil, India, or Indonesia, as well as strengthening and reinvigorating the Anglosphere, consisting of Britain, Canada, Australia and the US.

But the caveat is that, according to Philip Stevens of the Financial Times, these and other English-speaking nations are equally horrified by the prospect of the UK leaving its leadership role within the EU.

It would be foolish to censor the voice of foreign leaders in this, and future, referendums, for this would otherwise be forfeiting more informed decisions. But leaders must acknowledge the weaknesses in their knowledge, and they must not dictate debate.

Speak freely: voters can decide for themselves – Luke Rawcliffe

There is no need for any form of protocol or restrictions to be place on politicians expressing opinions on other countries domestic issues. Politicians have every right to contribute to debates going on inside other countries and the people of the country in question will react accordingly. Either they will take on board comments made by politicians they respect or they will disregard and see through the arguments made by politicians whom they hold in contempt.

In regards to the June EU Referendum the Brexiters are up in arms about Barack Obama’s recent comments stating he wants to see Britain remain in the European Union. The Leave campaign has attacked Obama’s right to comment on such issues. But of course the leader of the free world has a right to comment on such important issues and the British people have the right to either ignore his advice or take his comments on board.

Moreover the evidence would appear to suggest that a large proportion of the British electorate do want to hear Obama’s opinions on such domestic issues. Sunder Katwala, the director of British Future has recently noted that Obama has long been popular in the UK. He has cited a poll conducted by Pew Research in June 2015 which showed that 76 per cent of British voters trusted Obama ‘to do the right thing regarding world affairs’. This would suggest that there is a strong likelihood the British public does want to hear the opinions of prominent and respected politicians such as the US president.

This debate is shrouded in hypocrisy. For example many of the Brexiteers who are up in arms about Obama’s recent comments are rarely reluctant to express their opinions regarding Donald Trump and issues within the United States. Nigel Farage recently urged the Dutch people to vote ‘no’ in a referendum on the EU and Ukraine. The hypocrisy of Farage weighing in on a sovereign nation’s domestic referendum and then claiming that it is illegitimate for Obama to hold an opinion on the EU Referendum is clear.

If Barack Obama was to turn around tomorrow and declare that he had changed his mind and felt Britain should in fact leave the EU then according to their own logic the leaders of the Leave campaign would continue to say that Obama should not express an opinion on British domestic issues. But this would of course not happen. The Leave campaign would embrace the US president and shout his comments from the rooftops.

The world is indeed becoming increasingly global and such big decisions can have global consequences – therefore we need global opinions.

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