If the British leave the European Union, President Obama said, the U.S. will be in no hurry to conclude a trade deal with them. They’ll be in “the back of the queue” since the U.S. will have a stronger interest in the bigger European market.
This is an empty threat. While the European economy is bigger than the British one, it may be easier to restore the trade relations we already have with Britain than to improve the ones we have with the EU. And there is no good reason we cannot pursue both courses simultaneously, and both will be in our interest. President Obama is warning that Britain will be hurting its own interests by leaving the EU, and part of his case is that it will jeopardize the friendly trade relations Britain has with the U.S. But trade between the U.S. and Britain is mutually beneficial–that’s why it happens–and so a disruption in those trade relations will hurt us too. Which is why it will be very much in our interest to resume them. The alternative would be, in effect, to levy trade sanctions against Britain out of spite over its decision, and even at a cost to ourselves.
Obama’s argument will have its intended effect on British voters only to the extent that they let fear overcome clear thinking.