In a seemingly effortless shift, President Barack Obama voiced his respect Friday for Britons' decision to quit the European Union – a choice the U.S. President had warned against in an unusually blunt intervention into another nation's affairs barely two months ago.
Then, Mr. Obama, in a not-so-veiled threat, told Britons they would be sent to the "back of the queue" to wait their turn – perhaps years longer – for a bilateral trade deal with the United States, if they dared opt out of the European Union.
He also told Britons it would be a mistake for them to consider leaving the EU.
"I can tell you this," he said, sitting alongside Prime Minister David Cameron in London. "If right now I've got access to a massive market where I sell 44 per cent 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 just in case the message wasn't sufficiently clear that U.S. interests were best served by having ally Britain inside the European Union tent where it could promote the Anglo-American position, Mr. Obama dashed the Leave camp's hopes for a transatlantic trade deal.
Europe will come first, Mr. Obama warned.
"I think is fair to say that maybe some point down the line there might be a U.K.-U.S. trade agreement, but it's not going to happen any time soon because our focus is in negotiating with a big bloc of the European Union."
It wasn't clear in April whether there was a clamour in Britain to get advice on how to vote from Mr. Obama. On Friday, after his advice had been ignored, Mr. Obama wasn't making any more threats. It almost seemed as though the high-profile visit to London in April with the undisguised effort to push Britons to stick with the European Union had never happened.
Instead, Mr. Obama opted for the lofty perch of non-interfering friend. "The people of the United Kingdom have spoken, and we respect their decision," he said, and then added the "special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is enduring," adding that "the United Kingdom's membership in NATO remains a vital cornerstone of U.S. foreign, security, and economic policy."
Mr. Obama returned to the disinterested high ground later in the day. The President – to groans from an audience at a high-tech entrepreneurial conference at California's Stanford University – said that "while the U.K.'s relationship with the EU will change, one thing that will not change is the special relationship that exists between our two nations. That will endure."