Cameron ‘personally requested Obama’s back of the queue Brexit warning’

An ex-White House adviser says the former PM asked Mr Obama to be pessimistic about a trade deal in April 2016.

David Cameron and Barack Obama
Image:Barack Obama used an April 2016 visit to make a dramatic Brexit intervention

A former key aide to Barack Obama has confirmed David Cameron personally asked the US president to warn Britain would be “back of the queue” for a post-Brexit trade deal.

Ben Rhodes, an ex-White House adviser, admitted Mr Obama’s dramatic intervention in the EU referendum campaign came at the personal request of the former prime minister.

In April 2016, two months before the Brexit vote, the former president used a visit to London to caution the UK would not be a priority for a trade deal with America if British voters chose to quit the EU.

Mr Obama warned: “The UK is going to be in the back of the queue.”

U.S. President Barack Obama talks with Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication Ben Rhodes
Image:Mr Obama talks with aide Ben Rhodes in the White House in 2010

At the time, the remarks were furiously rejected by Brexit campaigners, who suspected co-ordination between 10 Downing Street and the Obama camp.

They pointed to the president’s choice of the word “queue”, rather than the typically American usage of “line”, as evidence of British involvement in scripting Mr Obama’s comments.

Mr Rhodes, who recently released a memoir of his time working for Mr Obama, has now revealed that was the case.

“We had come here to try to help the Remain campaign and we had a meeting with David Cameron and his team,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“We were all in violent agreement about the negative consequences of Brexit.

‘Queue’ is not exactly the word that Obama uses in casual conversation

Ex-White House aide Ben Rhodes

“In talking about the press conference they were going to hold together, Cameron and Obama, we were discussing the arguments for the Brexit campaign.

“Some of the arguments were based on the notion the US could just negotiate its own free trade agreement with the UK quickly.

“We all were agreeing that was unlikely to happen.

“As Obama was saying that, somebody on the British side said ‘yes, we’d end up being back of the queue’ and everyone laughed and Obama said ‘that’s exactly right’.

“Then he was asked ‘well, it would be good if you could repeat that point in the press conference’ and, of course, he did.”

Obama: UK-US trade deal would be back of queue

Obama: UK-US trade deal would be back of queue

The US President says a bilateral deal for trade would be far from a priority if UK voters decide to pull out of the EU.

Asked if that request came from Mr Cameron himself, Mr Rhodes said: “Yes. And, to be fair to Cameron, I don’t know that Cameron was suggesting the exact phrase that had been used on his side.

“But that’s what had been put forward and Obama said ‘of course, I’m here to be helpful’.”

He added: “Subsequently, it was correct. It was not true that you could skip to the front of the line.

“But, ‘queue’ is not exactly the word that Obama uses in casual conversation.”

In his diary recounting the EU referendum campaign, published in October 2016, Sir Craig Oliver – Mr Cameron’s former director of communications – dismissed claims Downing Street arranged Mr Obama’s comments.

He wrote: “There’s some weird whingeing from the Leavers that the fact he said ‘queue’ instead of ‘line’ proves it was written by No. 10.

“I slap it down. ‘Nonsense. The President can speak for himself’.”

He posted on Twitter on Monday: “Claims that President Obama was told to say ‘back of the queue’ on a post-Brexit trade deal are incorrect.

“As I said at the time, the President was clear in his own mind and spoke for himself. We were surprised when he used the phrase.”

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Crimson Tazvinzwa

Teacher and media trainer based in the United Kingdom.

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