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June 2016

In Which Ancient Saxon Saint Brexit Saves Europe From Itself With Tigger-on-Rabbit Pooh-Jitsu

"Brexit?" Wasn't that an obscure, apocryphal Anglo-Saxon saint? No? Well, a thousand years from now, it could be. A national savior like Arthur, Galahad, or Joan of Arc -- people won't remember exactly who or what he/she/it was, but they'll know for sure that back in the mists of the bad old days, all but lost to recorded history because everything was written or acted-out on little glowing electric screens, Jolly Old Brexit saved a unique nation-state so that its values could become a leading component of the modern world's values.

How? By non-violent resistance, refusing to remain clubbable with the bullying control-freaks of a bureaucracy-mad superstate, and voluntarily requesting ejection from their crazed and sadistic playhouse, whose inmates were indoctrinated to fear going outside. Then joining up with the bedraggled and disenfranchised nerds of EFTA, who had always refused to join the bullies' club but were thoroughly dominated due to their small numbers and individual puniness. Their once-mighty leader, Norway, had been downtrodden so long that at first he didn't even want to get up. And then, by using Britain's size and strength, and its willingness and ability to exit, as leverage to demand thorough changes to the Continentals' club, inviting those still inside to play by civilised rules, to form a more perfect union that still partook of each member's unique strengths but also respected the self-restrained, ordered liberty of nations and individuals. An association that only used force, rule-making and standardization as if they were necessary evils, and only when necessary for safety,  transparency, and such mutual intelligibility as honest trade requires. Instead of proliferating them for their own sake, to build up power, to show that all economic activity was subservient to the whims and plans of the rulers, to demoralize anyone who might dream of freedom.

Scholars of that epoch will generally agree on this much: that "the real-world actions of this mysterious Saint Brexit were among those that were allegorized, around that same time, in the tales of Saint Winnie, AKA 'The Pooh', and his sidekick Saint Piglet, particularly in 'In Which Tigger is Unbounced'. In which Rabbit -- thought to symbolize either the nameless, faceless Ee-Yoo Emperor, or maybe Britain's gifted, benevolent, but vain and snobbish friend President Obama -- manipulates pureheartedish but simpleish Prime Minister Piglet to help hatch his Cunning Plan."

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 "But the enduring good-natured vigour of Britain, represented by the Spirit Animal 'Tigger', turns out to be too pure, too socially-responsible in its own voluntaristic way, to be housebroken into fearfulness and dependence by such devices. In his vain desperation to make his power-play succeed even when it clearly has been suffering reversal after reversal, Rabbit falls into his own trap, and is rescued, reformed and reintegrated into the community by Tigger, in a far nicer and healthier way than Rabbit had arranged for Tigger:"

RabbitReducedAndReformed

[Though Milne makes all this obvious enough, for more academic Explaining of it see Niall Nance‐Carroll, “A Prosaics of the Hundred Acre Wood: Ethics in A. A. Milne's. Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner” (2014), in Mills, Ethics and Children's Literature, starting at p. 89.]

This certainly might not happen. But it could. It should. Its chances are good!

Who will do it?

Though the Brexit voters probably cared much more about immigration, the politicians who are currently in the government or in the governing party, and who will implement the Brexit, and lead the replacements and renegotiations of various components the EU relationship, are free-trade globalists who expressed far more concern about over-regulation, sovereignty and accountability than about immigration.* (Farange is not in government, as he's in UKIP. And Boris Johnson or another Leaver Tory would normally succeed Cameron as PM via a party conference, not a general election.) Yes, they will need to do something honestly, seriously and carefully designed to maintain control over immigration, but as long as they make that real effort, they'll have great leeway, and great support, for finding a smart, tough-minded way to preserve the benefits of trade without completely kowtowing to Brussels. They will be driven to preserve and improve the free-trade regime by three powerful factors, which will all push in the same direction:

  • Their personal beliefs and priorites about economics, liberalism etc. *
  • The need to appear competent, successful, and proactive instead of reactive
  • Genuine existential gut-level fear of really screwing up their country and the world, given the recent reports of the UK's demise. A feeling the Remainers and many Leave backbenchers share, which should discourage them from US-style factional mutually-sabotaging teaparty clusterthuggery.*

What they need to do: 

The details are full of devils, but in the big picture, the UK needs to maintain and expand free trade, and ideally should not only escape from, but dismantle or at least free other countries from, the EU's stifling powers and habits of overregulation. Brussels's legal power to overregulate within the EU, and its effective bargaining power to dictate the same overregulation to other countries. The UK and other non-EU or EU-exiting nations should use their new leverage to create stronger, less regulation-burdened free-trade agreements with the EU and with each other.

The problem we start with is that the EU is the flagship of globalist liberalism and yet, in its current form, it fetishizes and crusades for illiberalism on two great issues: (a) regulations so numerous and sometimes pointless as to stifle commerce and productivity and demean human dignity, and (b) oligarchic, dissent-proof elitist pseudo-consensus not only in everyday practice, but also as the ultimate source of political legitimacy, and as the standard to measure what claims can be taken seriously, what is moral, adult and responsible, what is anti-social, hateful, psychotic, etc.

Now, elitism is too widespread and deep for the ministers to address in the immediate work of Brexitage that has to be done. But Brexit allows and requires Britain to free itself from the EU's extreme regulatoriness, a flaw that fatally and blatantly negates the entire globalist, liberal idea that the EU symbolizes. This great federation, created to secure "the Four Freedoms, ... the free movement of goods, capital, services and persons," was taken over, from the beginning, by the opponents of economic freedom. Or maybe it's more accurate to say the rhetoric and banners of freedom were taken over circa 1990 by the Mandarins of an existing EEC that had been started for basically unrelated geopolitical purposes, in an earlier age when there was little understanding of economic freedom. (Even its statement of the Four Freedoms curiously and significantly leaves out the most important feature of free economies: free individual economic actors voluntarily contracting. Instead, it speaks of abstract goods, capital, services and persons just moving around, not specifying whether they're just spontaneously going to wherever there is a need, being dispatched there by socialist central planners, or actually being freely bought and sold by people without any state officiousness.) Anyhow, what better way for regulation enthusiasts to secure their own agendas than by being in charge of the day-to-day implementation and interpretation of everyone's economic freedoms and free trade?

In practice, the founding principle, that an economic activity and actor that's permitted in one state will be permitted in all, has brought in its sinister corollary, that any economic activity is forbidden until it is expressly permitted. One of the "prerequisites" to realizing the Four Freedoms is "the harmonization of laws and standards". Rather than a calling to work to minimize restrictions, this is taken as an invitation to impose elaborate regulations on everything, impose one country's desired restrictions on all the other countries, and then self-congratulate for making them uniform and thus making compliance simpler for business than it would be if there were some countries that offered the businesses and consumers more freedom to vary from the pickiest countries' norms. The otherwise very encouraging interim report on the US-EU TTTP negotiations emphasizes that even when extending this process overseas, it will be "a regulatory race to the top rather than a race to the bottom." 

Why they'll be able to do it:

Critics of the "Norwegian" alternative -- it's actually the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), once bigger than the EU's predecessor, the EEC, and has lost some major members to the EU but now also includes Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein and has free-trade agreements or negotiations with most major economies -- say that Norway still is forced, by the treaties that give it free trade with the EU, to separately approve and abide by the EU regs, and also that as a non-member it has no power in making them. But there are three important flaws in this argument:

1. The UK has only a small part in the EU's government, and of all the regulatory horror stories that have appeared since the early 1990s, I have never heard anything about the UK having lobbied for any strict regulation, nor for it successfully or seriously pressing to ease any such regulation. 

2. Norway doesn't have to swallow all the regs. According to Vox Explainers's deep and evenhanded "Brexit: 9 questions you were too embarrassed to ask", 

3. Leverage and dynamic change. Britain's size and wealth, and its leaving, give it unprecedented leverage to negotiate less-regulated free trade; to collectively bargain with EFTA, EFTA's major free-trade partners, the US, and Australia against the EU's long-arm regulations; and maybe even to fundamentally change the EU's illiberal nature, or to attract more EU members to a souped-up EFTA that would begin to take the EU's place. Brexit likewise greatly increases EFTA's and the US's leverage against the EU.

The official report on the US-EU TTTP negotiations -- the ones President Obama talked about when he sneered that the UK would have to go "to the back of the queue" and wait for years before US diplomats would talk trade with it -- actually describe a negotiation framework which would easily include the UK and EFTA, based on a comprehensive vision that all free trade deals should be accompanied by practical harmonization of all trading partners' regulations on any given subject. Adding additional free agents -- who'll remain free to cut their own deals with us -- to these kinds of negotiations could make them go faster and in the less-regulated direction the US says it wants.

The condescending naysayers' arguments wrongly assume that the EU will remain as strong and arrogant as it was before, and that the UK will be as isolated and powerless as Norway has lately been as "the great power in the Oslo–Reykjavik–Vaduz axis". But that's not how it works. That's not how any of this works. When you change something, its context and environment change, too. Neither great nor low expectations should be unreflectingly based on the conditions before the change.


 *[But for an astute libertarian argument that the Brexiters and Brexit are and will be illiberal, see "The Case for the UK staying in the EU" by Barry Stocker at Notes on Liberty. But even that calculus may shift as the question changes from whether to how.]

 


Brexitators All Googling "What's an EU" at Midnight Post-Vote? I Call BS on this Story: Let Me Count the Ways.

Leading mainstream news outlets, even The Washington Post, have taken a couple tweets about fleeting Google Trends results and stretched them into full-length articles, and probably a canonical chapter in the first draft of the history of the Brexit. One tweet reads, "+250% spike in "what happens if we leave the EU" in the past hour", followed by a dead link. Another is, "'What is the EU?' is the second top UK question on the EU since the #EURefResults were officially announced" -- with a graphic of the top five google question searches about the EU: 

  Cltl4jFWEAEbnun

I call BS, to an extent. Though it's certainly an entertaining dig at the Britons, and it's nice to hear a new & intelligent line of attack instead of the tired old completely groundless elitism. But while this lie flies around the world wide web in a thousand tongues, I've been helping the creaky old truth to struggle into its boots, get properly equipped to repel every possible fallacy it may meet and to carefully spare and cherish any truths hidden among the rubbish, and head off in pursuit. 

Here's what these articles don't tell us:

  • Were the absolute numbers of these Midnight Googlers enough to mean anything? Google sometimes shows you a graph of the number of searches, but even there, they leave off the actual numbers or any scale to measure them by.
  • How do the numbers compare to ALL midnight googling subjects? These are just the top question searches about the EU.
  • How many of them were actually Leave voters? Remain Voters? Non-Voters? 
  • And how does the absolute number of midnight "Whatzit" Googlers compare to all the searches for the same info in the YEARS leading up to the vote? Isn't that the exact comparison that all these articles are trying to make?
  • How many people were not counted because they were instead googling the now far more relevant alternatives to the EU, such as EFTA? Or older, tamer models such as the EEC? That's what I was googling at the time.
  • How many people google questions instead of one or two key terms? The questions make for a better story, a more entertaining package for Google's self-promotion, but aren't word or phrase searches much more common and thus more relevant?
  • Why should people be governed by the EU if they don't even know what it is?
  • Can you say "deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed"? How about "informed consent"?
  • Can the Queen vote? Just wondering. 

Rational explanations for the "spike" and whatever the actual numbers may be:

  • Most voters knew SOMETHING about the EU -- they've been living under it for 22 years -- so they may have figured they knew enough to make up their minds on the initial in-out question.
  • But after that, there are a lot of details that are only immediately relevant now that they have to find a way to leave and decide what to do instead, but which wouldn't necessarily have made a difference in the overall decision to stay or go.
  • "Stay" voters didn't necessarily need to do any research before the vote. If you vote to keep things as they are, you already know how they are, insofar as they affect your life. Only now do they have to figure out how they're going to get out and where they're going to go.
  • Surely some of the Googlers didn't vote, but now realize that (a) there's something happening here, (b) what it is ain't exactly clear, it may affect them, and they need to form opinions on what exactly the UK should do as it withdraws from, and partly replaces, the EU.
  • These morning-after Googlers actually were relatively proactive. Most secessionists -- from federations, contracts, gangs, cults, CD-of-the-month-clubs, etc. -- only find out at the end the exact nature of the group they're trying to leave. And the nature of those entities often changes, or is defined, only in the process of trying to secede. Just ask the former habitués of the Delian League, the Confederate States of America, the USSR, Yugoslavia, the Hotel California, or Scientology. Here's what they'll tell you:

"Athens, the strongest city-state in Greece prior to the war's beginning, was reduced to a state of near-complete subjection ... poverty became widespread in the Peloponnese, while Athens found itself completely devastated, and never regained its pre-war prosperity.[1][2] The ... conflict between democratic Athens and oligarchic Sparta, each of which supported friendly political factions within other states, made civil war a common occurrence in the Greek world. Greek warfare, meanwhile, originally a limited and formalized form of conflict, was transformed into an all-out struggle between city-states, complete with atrocities on a large scale. Shattering religious and cultural taboos, devastating vast swathes of countryside, and destroying whole cities, the Peloponnesian War marked the  dramatic end to the fifth century BC and the golden age of Greece.[3]"  (Wikipedia: Peloponnesian War)

My research did turn up other fun stuff, though: 

 

History-americans-american-constitution-independence-colonials-12248123_low

UPDATE: Other blogs addressed some of the same points:

1. "Stop Using Google Trends: Alternatively titled ‘Be aware of context, and maybe start using Google AdWords’ Instead" by  Danny Page on Medium.com

2. Remy Smith reports that you can use Google AdWords Keyword Planner to find out the absolute numbers of people searching for a term, and here's what he found out about the "what's the EU" searches" --

In the month before the Brexit vote, 8,100 Britons googled “what is the eu.” That’s around 261 a day. Google Trends showed a huge spike in searches for that term the day after the referendum; assuming searches for the term tripled, that’s still fewer than 1,000 individuals googling “what is the eu” in response to the “Leave” victory. Hardly a sign of voters being uninformed.

 That is, 8,100 googled it in the month leading up to it, an average of 261 a day. Not even counting all those who googled it earlier than that. And then the day after, if we believe the headline about a ">250%" spike, then over 261 X 3.5 people -- 914 people or a few more -- googled it.


Brexit & US: Obama scolds UK 'to the back of the queue' for seeking independence; Cleese dissents

What does the Brexit vote mean for Americans? It's useful if only as a distant, warped mirror to see and analyze ourselves, and the various kinds of people who make up a polity. Like someone said about cremation, so with the EU: a complex question that may not be one of right and wrong at all, but the first clear sign we have is that all the wrong people are all for it. The same people who have come to believe that the highest legitimacy comes not from democracy and the consent of the governed, but from being international, from the amorphous, unelected, unaccountable, and consequently frivolous  "international community". 

Except that some even wronger people are against the EU: The news we get here intimates that a few pro-Brexit leaders and some supporters are racists and xenophobes. And some of them probably are. But caution is in order there, because US standards on that are vastly different. We have a long history of discriminating on grounds of race -- a category we basically invented -- against several large groups who are just as American as anyone else, or more so. Unlike European countries, the US is a nation of immigrants and so we have few legitimate grounds for disapproving of more immigrants. We have little to reason to fear an alien nationality or religion taking over our land and turning us into outsiders. And yet, we enjoy far higher barriers to immigration than the EU countries do, and probably far higher barriers than even some of the European xenophobes advocate. So most of what Europeans say about immigration should not be interpreted and judged as it would be if Americans said it. Which is not to say that it should not be judged at all by anyone, nor that none of it is obviously loathsome.

So perhaps the wrong people are for the EU, but its opponents include the rightest and the wrongest people. And since the EU, like the blind men's elephant, is several different things -- free trade; freeish immigration and movement; an opt-out-able single currency which entails a single monetary policy; non-opt-out-able crazy and burdensome regulations that never cease to surprise not only by their content, but by what areas of life they creep into; a political union that keeps ratcheting towards more central power and less member autonomy; a form of government that's republican but effectively anti-democratic, keeping all power with elites who have very different views from most voters about the EU's proper role -- then we have to look at two overall questions about all this:

a. Which of these things are which Brexiters against? Are they against free trade, immigration, overregulation, or, like John Cleese, just against an elitist oligarchic continental republic taking over their country? 

b. But in reality, not just in intention, which of these things would Britain exit from, and which would it retain? That's probably the most relevant debate, and President Obama recently jumped into that end of it, with grave warnings (which some call threats), and even graver assumptions and presumptions.  

In a joint press conference at 10 Downing Street, President Obama, with some assistance from Prime Minister Cameron, delivered an astute analysis of how great nations such as the US and the UK benefit from working through multilateral treaty organizations, and, in the case of the UK, the EU. Being as insular as almost any other American, I only learned of the President's involvement yesterday, from a video clip of a very brief, uncharacteristically snide, threatening, and altogether ridiculous portion of Obama's remarks, in Seth Myers's piece on Brexit, after Marcus Ogawa's posting got me interested in learning more about the issue. 

Brilliant as the President's overall presentation was, it was fatally flawed by some odd and unspoken assumptions which it was almost entirely based on:

  • That the EU would continue after a Brexit with the same form and functions and all its other members. 
  • That leaving the EU means no trade with EU nations, and therefore the EU "is responsible for millions of jobs" in the UK.
  • That Europe's peace and prosperity since 1945 was caused and maintained by the EU (which has only existed in anything like its current form since 1993, when it was revolutionized from a free-trade federation into a regulatory superstate, and which did absolutely nothing useful about the genocidal post-Yugoslav wars of the 1990s and very little about more recent Russian aggression, certainly no more than its leading members would have done anyway).
  • That the EU as it is currently constituted is the only body through which the UK could participate in Europe. (Actually, there are other multilateral organizations for different purposes, some of which the UK is in now, such as the Human Rights convention, and others it could join, such as the European Free Trade Association, which has free trade agreements with the EU and with large nations on four other continents and talks underway with the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China); and there have been less-intrusive, trade-oriented models such as the European Economic Community or Common Market.)
  • That the US would take as long to negotiate trade deals with the UK, alone or in EFTA, as it has with the EU (since 2013 and still not done, perhaps due to the nature of the EU, or John Kerry's State Dept.). 
  • That the regulatory, bureaucratic, anti-freedom burden is always amusingly trivial in comparison to, and necessary for the success of, free-trade agreements, whether we're talking about our own work with GATT or Britain's submission to EU regulations that forbid gathering wild strawberries or throwing breadcrumbs out for birds, ban indecently-curved bananas, separate the beermaking countries from winemaking countries, and thousands that are not at all funny but equally wasteful.

Fta-map

The one little piece of this long and interesting speech that got excerpted and repeated everywhere goes like this, but you may have to watch it to get the full-on, dismissive sanctimoniousness of it:

My understanding is that some of the folks on the other side have been ascribing to the United States certain actions we’ll take if the UK does leave the EU.

[When he starts talkin' 'bout "folks", watch out, he's about to get mighty condescendin' and downright mean.]

So they say, for example, that, well, we’ll just cut our own trade deals with the United States. ... I figured you might want to hear it from the President of the United States what I think the United States is going to do.  (Laughter.)  

And on that matter, for example, I think it’s fair to say that --

[here he sort of shrugs and looks real nonchalant, like Tom Sawyer feigning reluctance to trade his apple for a puppy, except also schoolmarmy and chiding, with a dry contempt]

-- maybe some point down the line, there might be a UK-U.S. trade agreement, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon, because our focus is in negotiating with a big bloc, the European Union, to get a trade agreement done, and the UK is going to be in the back of the queue -- not because we don't have a special relationship, but because, given the heavy lift on any trade agreement, us having access to a big market with a lot of countries -- rather than trying to do piecemeal trade agreements is hugely inefficient.   

So our original trading partner, a world power that, in living memory, ruled the waves, can darn well take a number and go to the back of the line and do without our products and markets for the next five or ten years, because we won't have any diplomats with enough free time to deal with you; they'll all be busy working on this big negotiation with the EU. In the meantime, go talk to the Russians or the Chinese or someone else that has time for your little country. And what about American businesses that would like to export or import to or from the UK? Bah, humbug, are there no workhouses? We can't save every undercapitalized entrepreneur. Let them eat cake. As three legendarily callous villains would put it.

Maybe it's because my kids have been repeatedly playing George III's creepy songs from "Hamilton" at me, but doesn't this sound like the supercilious British mercantilists who bullied the American colonists into revolt?

And is it really that much less efficient to work out a trade deal with one country that really likes free trade, or a small group like EFTA that really likes free trade, than with a mammoth 28-nation conglomerate infested with French bureaucrats who are in the whole deal just to create a huge briar patch of bewildering bureaucracy and insane regulations that they alone can master and maneuver in? If, and it's a big if, those EU stalwarts even want the 2013 round of US-EU negotiations to conclude successfully, then wouldn't some US-UK or US-EFTA side deals actually get the big deal moving?

What on earth is our overwhelming national interest in the EU that would justify an American President's talking to Great Britain this way? In his full remarks below the President gives an impressive explanation of that, although it begs the question on the six dubious assumptions I listed at the beginning:

President Obama's full remarks on EU issues, via whitehouse.gov:

[First, he said some lovely things about the Queen and described at length the many vital projects that he and Mr. Cameron have worked on together as part of our countries' special relationship. A stark contrast with what he then said about the Brexit vote.]

And, yes, the Prime Minister and I discussed the upcoming referendum here on whether or not the UK should remain part of the European Union.  

Let me be clear.  Ultimately, this is something that the British voters have to decide for themselves.  But as part of our special relationship, part of being friends is to be honest and to let you know what I think.  And speaking honestly, the outcome of that decision is a matter of deep interest to the United States because it affects our prospects as well.  The United States wants a strong United Kingdom as a partner.  And the United Kingdom is at its best when it's helping to lead a strong Europe.  It leverages UK power to be part of the European Union. 

As I wrote in the op-ed here today, I don't believe the EU moderates British influence in the world -- it magnifies it.  The EU has helped to spread British values and practices across the continent.  The single market brings extraordinary economic benefits to the United Kingdom.  And that ends up being good for America, because we're more prosperous when one of our best friends and closest allies has a strong, stable, growing economy.
Americans want Britain's influence to grow, including within Europe.  

The fact is, in today's world no nation is immune to the challenges that David and I just discussed.  And in today's world, solving them requires collective action.  All of us cherish our sovereignty -- my country is pretty vocal about that -- but the U.S. also recognizes that we strengthen our security through our membership in NATO.  We strengthen our prosperity through organizations like the G7 and the G20.  And I believe the UK strengthens both our collective security and prosperity through the EU.  

In the 21st century, the nations that make their presence felt on the world stage aren't the nations that go it alone but the nations that team up to aggregate their power and multiply their influence.  And precisely because Britain's values and institutions are so strong and so sound, we want to make sure that that influence is heard, that it's felt, that it influences how other countries think about critical issues.  We have confidence that when the UK is involved in a problem that they're going to help solve it in the right way.  That's why the United States cares about this.  

For centuries, Europe was marked by war and by violence.  The architecture that our two countries helped build with the EU has provided the foundation for decades of relative peace and prosperity on that continent.  What a remarkable legacy -- a legacy born in part out of what took place in this building.  

Before we walked out, I happened to see Enigma on display.  And that was a reminder of the incredible innovation and collaboration of the allies in World War II and the fact that neither of us could have won that alone.  And in the same way, after World War II, we built out the international institutions that, yes, occasionally constrained us, but we willingly allowed those constraints because we understood that by doing so, we were able to institutionalize and internationalize the basic values of rule of law, and freedom, and democracy, that would benefit our citizens as well as people around the world.

I think there's a British poet who once said, "No man is an island" -- even an island as beautiful as this.  We're stronger together.  And if we continue to tackle our challenges together, then future generations will look back on ours, just as we look back on the previous generation of English and American citizens who worked so hard to make this world safer and more secure and more prosperous, and they'll say that we did our part, too.  And that's important.  That's important not just here; that's important in the United States, as well.

Thanks.

. . . 

Q Thank you very much, Prime Minister.  Chris Ship from ITV News.

Mr. President, you, yourself, acknowledge the controversial timing of your comments on the EU referendum and the spirited debate that we're having here.  And I think you're right.  In the weeks before your arrival here, Leave campaigners have said that you're acting hypocritically.  America would not accept the loss of sovereignty that we have to accept as part of the EU.  America would not accept the levels of immigration from Mexico that we have to accept from the EU.  And therefore, in various degrees of politeness, they have said to you that you should really keep your views to yourself.  With that in mind, Mr. President, do you still think it was the right decision to intervene in this debate?  And can I ask you this -- truthfully, what happens if the UK does decide in June to leave the European Union?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, first of all, let me repeat, this is a decision for the people of the United Kingdom to make.  I’m not coming here to fix any votes.  I’m not casting a vote myself. I’m offering my opinion.  And 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’ll take if the UK does leave the EU.  So they say, for example, that, well, we’ll just cut our own trade deals with the United States.  So they're voicing an opinion about what the United States is going to do.  I figured you might want to hear it from the President of the United States what I think the United States is going to do.  (Laughter.)  

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-U.S. trade agreement, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon, because our focus is in negotiating with a big bloc, the European Union, to get a trade agreement done, and the UK is going to be in the back of the queue -- not because we don't have a special relationship, but because, given the heavy lift on any trade agreement, us having access to a big market with a lot of countries -- rather than trying to do piecemeal trade agreements is hugely inefficient.   

Now, to the subject at hand, obviously the United States is in a different hemisphere, different circumstances, has different sets of relationships with its neighbors than the UK does.  But I can tell you this.  If, right now, I’ve got access to a massive market where I sell 44 percent of my exports, and now I’m thinking about leaving the organization 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’d probably do.  

And what I’m trying to describe is a broader principle, which is, in our own ways -- I mean, we don't have a common market in the Americas -- but in all sorts of ways, the United States constrains itself in order to bind everyone under a common set of norms and rules that makes everybody more prosperous.  

That's what we built after World War II.  The United States and the UK designed a set of institutions -- whether it was the United Nations, or the Bretton Woods structure, IMF, World Bank, NATO, across the board.  Now, that, to some degree, constrained our freedom to operate.  It meant that occasionally we had to deal with some bureaucracy.  It meant that on occasion we have to persuade other countries, and we don't get 100 percent of what we want in each case.  But we knew that by doing so, everybody was going to be better off -- partly because the norms and rules that were put in place were reflective of what we believe.  If there were more free markets around the world, and an orderly financial system, we knew we could operate in that environment.  If we had collective defense treaties through NATO, we understood that we could formalize an architecture that would deter aggression, rather than us having, piecemeal, to put together alliances to defeat aggression after it already started.  And that principle is what’s at stake here.

And the last point I’ll make on this -- until I get the next question, I suspect -- (laughter) -- is that, as David said, this magnifies the power of the UK.  It doesn't diminish it.  On just about every issue, what happens in Europe is going to have an impact here.  And what happens in Europe is going to have an impact in the United States.

We just discussed, for example, the refugee and the migration crisis.  And I’ve told my team -- which is sitting right here, so they’ll vouch for me -- that we consider it a major national security issue that you have uncontrolled migration into Europe -- not because these folks are coming to the United States, but because if it destabilizes Europe, our largest trading bloc -- trading partner -- it’s going to be bad for our economy.  If you start seeing divisions in Europe, that weakens NATO.  That will have an impact on our collective security.  

Now, if, in fact, I want somebody who’s smart and common sense, and tough, and is thinking, as I do, in the conversations about how migration is going to be handled, somebody who also has a sense of compassion, and recognizes that immigration can enhance, when done properly, the assets of a country, and not just diminish them, I want David Cameron in the conversation.  Just as I want him in the conversation when we're having discussions about information-sharing and counterterrorism activity.  Precisely because I have confidence in the UK, and I know that if we're not working effectively with Paris or Brussels, then those attacks are going to migrate to the United States and to London, I want one of my strongest partners in that conversation.  So it enhances the special relationship.  It doesn't diminish it.

 

PRIME MINISTER CAMERON:  Let me just make, Chris, one point in response to that.  This is our choice; nobody else’s -- the sovereign choice of the British people.  But as we make that choice, it surely makes sense to listen to what our friends think, to listen to their opinion, to listen to their views.  And that's what Barack has been talking about today.

But it’s also worth remembering as we make this choice, it’s a British choice about the British membership of the European Union.  We're not being asked to make a choice about whether we support the German style of membership, or the Italian style of membership.  Britain has a special status in the European Union. We're in the single market; we're not part of the single currency.  We're able to travel and live and work in other European countries, but we’ve maintained our borders, because we’re not in the Schengen no-border zone.

And on this vital issue of trade, where Barack has made such a clear statement, we should remember why we are currently negotiating this biggest trade deal in the whole world, and in the whole world’s history, between the European Union and the United States -- is because Britain played an absolutely leading part in pushing for those talks to get going.  Indeed, we announced them at the G8 in Northern Ireland, when Britain was in the chair of that organization.  We set the agenda for what could be an absolutely game-changing trade deal for jobs, for investment, because we were part of this organization.  

So I just want to add those important points.  

I think we have a U.S. question now.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Justin Sink.

Q    Thanks, Mr. President.  Following on that, do you think that between Brexit and the migration issue, European unity is at a crisis point?  What do you hope leaders gathering in Germany can concretely do about it?  And do you expect those nations to militarily support, including the possibility of ground troops, the new government in Libya to keep that situation from further straining Europe?  While we’re talking about future summits, I’m also wondering if maybe you could talk about whether you plan to go to Hiroshima when you visit Japan, and -- 

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Oh, come on, man.  You're really stretching it.  (Laughter.)  

Q    This one is for Prime Minister Cameron, and it’s short.  I promise.   

Prime Minister Cameron, the President has come here to tell the UK that, as a friend, and speaking honestly, they should stay in the EU.  As a friend and speaking honestly, what would you advise American voters to do about Donald Trump?  Thanks.  (Laughter.)  

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  That was so predictable.

PRIME MINISTER CAMERON:  I’ll let you take the first six -- 

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Yes, exactly. 

PRIME MINISTER CAMERON:  -- and then I’ll pick up that last one.  (Laughter.)  

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I wouldn’t describe European unity as in a crisis, but I would say it is under strain.  And some of that just has to do with the aftermath of the financial crisis and the strains that we’re all aware of with respect to the Eurozone.  I think it is important to emphasize, as David points out, that the UK is not part of the Eurozone, and so the blowback to the British economy has been different than it is on the continent.  But we’ve seen some divisions and difficulties between the southern and the northern parts of Europe.  That’s created some strains.  

I think the migration crisis amplifies a debate that’s taking place not just in Europe, but in the United States as well.  At a time of globalization, at a time when a lot of the challenges that we face are transnational, as opposed to just focused on one country, there is a temptation to want to just pull up the drawbridge, either literally or figuratively.  We see that played out in some of the debates that are taking place in the U.S. presidential race.  And that debate I think is accelerated in Europe.  But I’m confident that the ties that bind Europe together are ultimately much stronger than the forces that are trying to pull them apart. 

Europe has undergone an extraordinary stretch of prosperity -- maybe unmatched in the history of the world.  If you think about the 20th century and you think about the 21st century, 21st century Europe looks an awful lot better.  And I think the majority of Europeans recognize that.  They see that unity and peace have delivered sustained economic growth, reduced conflict, reduced violence, enhanced the quality of life for people.  And I’m confident that can continue.

But I do believe that it’s important to watch out for some of these fault lines that are developing.  And in that sense, I do think that the Brexit vote -- which, if I’m a citizen of UK, I’m thinking about it solely in terms of how is this helping me, how is this helping the UK economy, how is it helping create jobs here in the UK -- that’s the right way to think about it.  But I do also think that this vote will send a signal that is relevant about whether the kind of prosperity that we’ve built together is going to continue, or whether the forces of division end up being more prominent.  And that’s why it’s -- that’s part of the reason why it’s relevant to the United States, and why I have had the temerity to weigh in on it. 

What were your four other questions?  (Laughter.)  I've got to figure I've knocked out two through that answer. 

. . . 

PRIME MINISTER CAMERON:  We have another British question from Laura Kuenssberg from the BBC.

Q    Thank you.  Mr. President, you've made your views very plain on the fact that British voters should choose to stay in the EU.  But in the interest of good friends always being honest, are you also saying that our decades-old special relationship that's been through so much would be fundamentally damaged and changed by our exit?  If so, how?  And are you also -- do you have any sympathy with people who think this is none of your business?  

And, Prime Minister, to you, if I may, some of your colleagues believe it's utterly wrong that you have dragged our closest ally into the EU referendum campaign.  What do you say to them?  And is it appropriate for the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to have brought up President Obama’s Kenyan ancestry in the context of this debate?  

PRIME MINISTER CAMERON:  Well, let me -- this is a British question - let me go first.  I mean, first of all, questions for Boris are questions for Boris.  They’re questions for Boris, they’re not questions for me.  

I don’t have some special power over the President of the United States.  Barack feels strongly about this and has said what he’s said.  And, as I said, it’s our decision as a sovereign people, the choice we make about Europe, but I think it’s right to listen to and consider the advice of your friends.

And just to amplify one of the points that Barack made, we have a shared interest of making sure Europe takes a robust approach to Russian aggression.  And if you take those issues of the sanctions that we put in place through the European Union, I think I can put my hand on my heart and say that Britain played a really important role, and continues to play an important role, in making sure those sanctions were put in place and kept in place.  I’m not sure it would have happened if we weren’t there.

Now, if it’s in our interest -- and it is in our interest -- for Europe to be strong against aggression, how can it be an interest not to be at that table and potentially to see those sanctions not take place?  And I think it’s been that working between Britain and the United States over this issue that has helped to make a big difference.

I would just say about the special relationship, to me -- and I’m passionate about this, and I believe it very, very deeply, for all the reasons of the history and the language and the culture, but also about the future of our country -- and the truth is this:  The stronger Britain is, and the stronger America is, the stronger that relationship will be.  And I want Britain to be as strong as possible.  And we draw our strength from all sorts of things that we have as a country -- the fifth largest economy in the world; amazing armed forces; brilliant security and intelligence forces -- that we were discussing about how well they work together; incredibly talented people; brilliant universities; the fact that we’re members of NATO, the G7, the G20, the Commonwealth.  But we also draw strength, and project strength, and project power, and project our values, and protect our people, and make our country wealthier, our people wealthier by being in the European Union.  

So I want Britain to be as strong as possible.  And the stronger Britain is, the stronger that special relationship is, and the more that we can get done together to make sure that we have a world that promotes democracy and peace and human rights and the development that we want to see across the world.

So, to me, it’s simple:  Stronger Britain, stronger special relationship -- that’s in our interest, and that’s in the interest of the United States of America, as well.   

 

 PRESIDENT OBAMA:  . . . 

We are so bound together that nothing is going to impact the emotional and cultural and intellectual affinities between our two countries.  So I don’t come here, suggesting in any way that that is impacted by a decision that the people of the United Kingdom may make around whether or not they’re members of the European Union.  That is there.  That’s solid.  And that will continue, hopefully, eternally.  And the cooperation in all sorts of ways -- through NATO, through G7, G20 -- all those things will continue.

But, as David said, if one of our best friends is in an organization that enhances their influence and enhances their power and enhances their economy, then I want them to stay in it. Or at least I want to be able to tell them, you know, I think this makes you guys bigger players.  I think this helps your economy.  I think this helps to create jobs.  

And so, ultimately, it’s your decision.  But precisely because we’re bound at the hip, I want you to know that before you make your decision.

 [He was then asked a question about Syria, Putin, Prince, transgender bathrooms and traveling in North Carolina and Mississippi, which he answered wisely, calmly, admirably, and in detail although not excessively so, and on that note the event ended.]