The former chairwoman was taken aback by asserts he was anti-British ahead of pre-Brexit referendum visit, a memoir says
The Obama White House viewed Boris Johnson as a British version of Donald Trump” with better hair”, according to a forthcoming memoir by a former top presidential adviser.
In the World as It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House, Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser and speechwriter for the former president, describes eight years of domestic and foreign policy construction, culminating in the shock of Trump’s victory in November 2016.
In the book, due to be published on 5 June, Rhodes recounts a” hastily arranged” journey to London in April 2016 aimed at bolstering the then “ministers “, David Cameron, and argue the lawsuit for remaining in the EU, two months before the UK referendum on Brexit.
” It was unusual to coordinate so closely with a foreign government, but the Brits were different, and Brexit would be calamitous, a crucial piece of the post-world war two order drifting off into the sea ,” Rhodes recalls.
Obama agreed to fly to London after Cameron’s chief of staff, Ed Llewellyn , now ambassador to Paris, emailed Rhodes appealing for a presidential visit, pointing out that the polls were finely balanced and Obama had an approval rating in the UK of over 70%.
As part of his contribution to the campaign, Obama published a pro-Remain commentary in the Daily Telegraph to coincide with his arrival. But Johnson, who was then mayor of London, published an resisting commentary in the Sun, saying that Obama had had a bust of Winston Churchill removed from the Oval Office, and attributing the move to” the part-Kenyan president’s ancestral disfavor of the British Empire- of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender “.
Johnson’s comments were denounced by Labour legislators as” dog-whistle racism” and the mayor was derided by Churchill’s grandson, Nicholas Soames, as,” unreliable and idle about the facts “. According to Rhodes’ account, Obama was also taken aback by the racial connotations of the two attacks from Johnson, who three months later would become foreign secretary, in the wake of the Brexit victory.
“Really?” the president is quoted as saying and being read Johnson’s comments.” The black guy doesn’t like the British ?”
When Rhodes suggested to Obama that his critics were” more subtle back home “, the president replied:” Not actually … Boris is their Trump “.
” With better hair ,” Rhodes added.
At a joint press conference with Cameron during the three-day visit, Obama went out of his way to refute Johnson’s claims about the Churchill bust, pointing out it had been moved to the entrance of his private White House study, known as the Treaty Room, a place where he saw it every day.
” I love the guy ,” Obama told. Churchill’s place in the Oval Office was taken by a likeness of Martin Luther King.
In the course of the same press conference, Obama used to say if the UK left the EU, it would be” at the back of the queue” when it came to negotiating a new trade agreement with the US. According to Rhodes, the phrase had been used by a British official in an earlier private meeting in Downing Street, and Obama had repeated it publicly at Cameron’s specific petition.
Rhodes recalls that Cameron’s aides were” congratulating each other” on Obama’s intervention, and hoped that it would be enough to” inch them over the finish line “.
Brexit leaders afterwards claimed Obama’s visit to London backfired and helped them win the June 2016 referendum due to a backlash against foreign meddling in British politics.
Johnson insisted he had no regrets about raising Obama’s Kenyan ancestry and rejected Obama’s claim that the UK would be at the back of the queue for a US trade deal as “absurd”.
The Trump administration has given mixed signals over where the UK would stand in negotiating a post-Brexit trade pact. Trump himself has suggested the UK had a duty to take second place to the EU, while the Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin has said the UK would be” at the front of the line “.
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