EU referendum: President Barack Obama's trade comments rubbished by Leave campaigners

James Nickerson
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President Obama And The First Lady Attend Town Hall Event In Central London
Obama said Brexit would leave UK at the "back of the queue" on trade (Source: Getty)

President Barack Obama’s claim that it could take the UK up to a decade to negotiate a trade deal with the US if it votes to leave the EU has come under fire by Leave campaigners.

The US’s head of state said that it could "be five years from now, 10 years from now before we were able to actually get something done", while he added that the UK would be at the "back of the queue for trade deals" with the US, if it left the EU.

But Vote Leave, the officially designated Out campaign group, hit out at Obama’s comments, arguing the US has previously concluded free trade deals in under two years and is only conducting one other trade agreement at the moment.

"This is a case of political positioning trumping reality and is a million miles away from from the facts on the ground. The United States reached deals with Canada and Australia in two years so no one will seriously believe it will take five times as long to conclude a UK deal," said Conservative cabinet member Chris Grayling.

Read more: Call it the Obama effect? Brexit odds have fallen again

But Obama had told the BBC: "The UK would not be able to negotiate something with the United States faster than the EU.

"We wouldn't abandon our efforts to negotiate a trade deal with our largest trading partner, the European market."

Head of Europe and trade policy at the Institute of Directors Allie Renison agrees with Obama.

"The US and the UK probably could do their own free trade deal in a few short years, but unless a US president intervened to specifically put the UK on United States Trade Representative’s agenda, it’s unlikely they would be a natural top choice for Washington, not least because trade between the two countries is pretty significant and the barriers are pretty low," Renison told City A.M.

"There is a lot of trade fatigue in Washington stemming from its new focus on big regional trade pacts like TTIP and the TPP, and so diverting resources to one with the UK, especially if it has just left the EU, wouldn’t be very likely."

She also said that it would be unwise to forget the US is very good at using the leverage of its massive market (including people and businesses, not just GDP) to open up smaller countries’ markets while not always giving the same reciprocal access to its own market.

"That’s why the EU is able to move the US on some areas of negotiations, because it has the leverage and weight of a 500-million market behind it," Renison added.

After departing the UK, Obama went on to Hanover, Germany, to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel. At a press conference, he called for the US and EU to keep pushing for a transatlantic free trade deal, despite opposition to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partmnership (TTIP).

Read more: Obama says no to UK-US trade deal after Brexit

Grayling hit out more broadly at Obama, stating that "no American President would consider giving up as much sovereignty as we have".

"This referendum is about us regaining our independence as a nation and taking back control of our economy, our borders and the £350m we hand to Brussels each week."

The comments from Grayling come after fellow Out campaigner Boris Johnson accused Obama of hypocrisy for backing the Remain campaign during his visit to the UK, while Nigel Farage last week labelled Obama the most anti-British president ever.

Meanwhile, the £350m figure used by the Leave campaign was last week dubbed "potentially misleading" by the UK Statistics Authority as it doesn’t take account of the UK's rebate or money that comes back from the EU.

In other developments, Democrat US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton jumped on the Barack Obama bandwagon and said she values a "strong United Kingdom in a strong EU".

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