The Corner

National Security & Defense

“Back of the Queue”

Ramesh has already had some wise words to say in response to Obama’s warning that if the British leave the European Union,  the US will be in no hurry to conclude a trade deal with them. Britain will, Obama explained, be relegated to “the back of the queue” since the US will have a stronger interest in the bigger European market (not the first time we have heard this sort of talk from the administration) .

It’s probably worth adding that even if the US does not conclude a trade deal with Britain, the UK will probably not be in a worse position than it is now. Yes, the US and the EU are currently trying to negotiate a free trade (and more) agreement (the TTIP), but the chances of the TTIP coming into law any time soon, if ever, are diminishing. The Trump and Sanders insurgencies have, I reckon, seen to that.

And then there’s this (via Reuters):

Support for the transatlantic trade deal known as TTIP has fallen sharply in Germany and the United States, a survey showed on Thursday, days before Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Barack Obama meet to try to breathe new life into the pact.

The survey, conducted by YouGov for the Bertelsmann Foundation, showed that only 17 percent of Germans believe the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is a good thing, down from 55 percent two years ago.

In the United States, only 18 percent support the deal compared to 53 percent in 2014. Nearly half of U.S. respondents said they did not know enough about the agreement to voice an opinion.

Under the circumstances, the argument that the UK will miss out on an American free trade deal by leaving the EU seems unconvincing. If anything, in the current political climate a smaller, ‘Britain-only’ deal might be easier to get through, although I would be less optimistic about the chances of that than (I think) Ramesh and (I know) many Brexiteers. The idea of the Anglosphere is all very well, but translating it into concrete agreements is something else altogether.

Best guess: neither the UK nor the EU cuts a trade deal with the US, which means (roughly speaking)  that Brexit would, in that respect, ‘cost’ nothing.

Obama’s ‘threat’ (a threat, I’d add from a president who would be out of office before any Brexit took effect) is, therefore, largely meaningless.  But it’s worth taking a closer look at the language that Obama used, language he used, it should be noted, with David Cameron, part Heep, part fanboy, standing at his side.

Writing for CapX, Iain Martin explains:

That a Prime Minister should draft in a US President to stand next to him and deliver threats that help him in his referendum struggle was shaming.

The British, said Obama, could get to the “back of the queue” if they want a trade deal post-referendum having dared to vote Leave. There are a number of ironies here, beyond the curiously British form of words that was employed. Queue? Americans say line, surely? And the EU doesn’t have such an agreement with the US anyway. But even if one is finalised, there will be no US interest in a similar deal with the UK, says the President. Lovely. Charming.

…It is an open question what people will make of the Obama comment. Most people will not notice but I’ll be surprised if quite a few people watching the news tonight don’t see that arrogant remark and not like being told to get to the back of the queue. Generally, it’s not a nice thing to say in Britain.

“Get to the back of the queue,” implies you’ve done something wrong. It’s what the officious pillock running a canteen says to the poor customer, trying to control someone who has dared wander around looking at the food they are about to choose and pay for. If the US President is deluded enough to think that the UK voting to align its governing system with the US – own laws, control of own borders – counts as doing something wrong, then he can…

Then Mr. Martin is not very polite.

As Martin concedes, Obama’s phrasing and/or its tone may soon be forgotten. Or maybe it will only fire up the sort of people already likely to opt for Brexit.  Time will tell. But I suspect that one person who will have a use for keeping its memory alive is Vladimir Putin. The relationship between euroskepticism and a certain grudging respect (or something more sinister) for the Russian leader is much more complicated than the usual Brussels-baked caricature would suggest – and it varies from country to country. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t be surprised if footage of “get to the back of the queue” makes a regular appearance in the propaganda that Kremlin mouthpiece  fiercely independent TV channel RT (Russia Today) sends Britain’s way.

Smart diplomacy, yet again. 

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