British voters chose to “leave” the European Union on Thursday, defying the polls — and President Barack Obama, who had urged Britain to “remain” in the EU. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had also urged Britain to stay in the EU. Only Donald Trump had backed the campaign to leave.
Republican strategists had panned Trump’s decision to travel to the UK in the midst of campaign turmoil, and in the wake of his blistering attack on Hillary Clinton earlier this week.
Now, however, it looks like a risk that paid off handsomely, in the currency of foreign policy credibility.
Obama’s advice may have pushed some voters to “leave.” In April, he warned British voters they would be at the “back of the queue” in trade with the U.S. if they left the EU. Some, like Andrew Roberts, took offense, writing in the Wall Street Journal:
Surely—surely—this is an issue on which the British people, and they alone, have the right to decide, without the intervention of President Obama, who adopted his haughtiest professorial manner when lecturing us to stay in the EU, before making the naked threat that we would be sent “to the back of the queue” (i.e., the back of the line) in any future trade deals if we had the temerity to vote to leave.
Was my country at the back of the line when Winston Churchill promised in 1941 that in the event of a Japanese attack on the U.S., a British declaration of war on Japan would be made within the hour?
Were we at the back of the line on 9/11, or did we step forward immediately and instinctively as the very first of your allies to contribute troops to join you in the expulsion of the Taliban, al Qaeda’s hosts, from power in Afghanistan?
Or in Iraq two years later, was it the French or the Germans or the Belgians who stood and fought and bled beside you? Whatever views you might have over the rights or wrongs of that war, no one can deny that Britain was in its accustomed place: at the front of the line, in the firing line. So it is not right for President Obama now to threaten to send us to the back of the line.
Hillary Clinton also backed a “remain” vote in April, with a senior policy adviser issuing a statement on her behalf:
Hillary Clinton believes that transatlantic cooperation is essential, and that cooperation is strongest when Europe is united. She has always valued a strong United Kingdom in a strong EU. And she values a strong British voice in the EU.
Trump, who happens to be in Scotland to open a golf resort, promised in May that leaving the EU would not put Britain at the “back of the queue,” and said: “I think if I were from Britain I would probably want to go back to a different system.” He reiterated that support last week, telling the Sunday Times: “I would personally be more inclined to leave, for a lot of reasons like having a lot less bureaucracy. … But I am not a British citizen. This is just my opinion.”