Obama flew to England to campaign but Guardian blames Putin for interfering in Brexit
By Bryan MacDonald
It was the fourth week of April, last year. The Brexit referendum was only two months away, and the campaign was heating up. However, the most recent opinion polls showed 'remain' was on course for a resounding victory.
The ORB company predicted an eight-point margin (51% vs. 43%) and ComRes indicated an eleven percent lead (51% vs 40%).
Doubtlessly confident of success, David Cameron welcomed Barack Obama to England for a three-day visit. The American president saw the European Union as a useful US ally, and his arrival amounted to a campaign event in favor of the United Kingdom's continued membership. It was a very public and unprecedented intervention. And, at a time when Eurocrats themselves were trying to keep some distance, it involved an external leader with no obvious direct stake in the outcome.
Nevertheless, Washington had selfish interests in continued British influence in Brussels. Because, since 1973, the UK had consistently acted as America's voice at the European table. Indeed, it was for that very reason Charles DeGaulle strained to keep London out of the club in his working lifetime. As the legendary French statesman always insisted that Britain would act as a 'Trojan horse' for American interests.
And this fear was vindicated around the turn of the century when Downing Street pushed for rapid expansion into Eastern Europe to lock former Warsaw Pact states in the 'Western' club. A project enthusiastically supported by Washington, which increasingly perceived the EU as an adjunct to its NATO military alliance, but less warmly embraced by Germany, Italy, and France. Ironically, the massive migration unleashed by the extension would ultimately become one of the main catalysts for Britain's exit. If not the principal one.
Never short of confidence, Obama strutted into London wielding more stick than carrot. During a joint news conference with Cameron, he sternly told assembled journalists how Britain would 'go to the back of the queue' if it left the European Union and then tried to negotiate its own trade deal with the United States. Liberal UK media seized on this as part of their attempts to scare voters into backing 'remain.'
On the contrary, Obama's arrival was met with derision by the anti-EU media. Thus, surely aware of this, the president justified his interference by invoking the spirit of the Second World War. He claimed the sacrifice of GIs meant America had a share in Europe's future direction and stability. The BBC and the Guardian enthusiastically embraced Obama's message.
Which makes it all the more bizarre when this week we see the latter not only alleging how Vladimir Putin meddled in Brexit, for which there is no actual evidence, but splashing it across their 'morning briefing.' Because if American suffering gives them a "stake" in Europe, by that logic, they may as well deliver the keys to the entire continent to Moscow, or perhaps even Minsk.
Who Deserves It?
Because whereas around 175,000 US soldiers died battling the Nazis in the conflict, Russia lost in the region of 14 million people. Meanwhile, 25 percent (2.3 million) of Belarus' entire population was wiped out. Incidentally, its leader, Alexander Lukashenko, seems troubled by the British withdrawal. "The European Union is a strong pillar of support for the planet and, if it disappears, there will be trouble. That is why I do not appreciate your Brexit and nationalistic movements," he told Didier Reynders, the Belgian deputy prime minister, in comments not widely circulated by Fleet Street.
As for Putin, he maintained silence during the campaign before subsequently making comments which were far from enthusiastic. "It is clear that this referendum's traumatic effect will make itself felt for a long time yet. We will see how they all put democratic principles into practice," he observed. Putin also expressed hopes of establishing a "common economic and humanitarian space" in co-operation with a post-Brexit EU.
Yet, the Guardian just can't let go of its ridiculous mantra, which boils down to Russia being ultimately responsible for everything that shakes its world view. From Trump's US election triumph to the rise of Marine Le Pen and Germany's AfD movement, they see the Kremlin's nefarious hand behind every threat to the 'liberal order' the newspaper promotes. No matter how ridiculous or implausible the conjecture.
The fact is Britain's best-selling tabloid, The Sun; it's leading mid-market newspaper, The Daily Mail and the most popular broadsheet, The Daily Telegraph, all supported Brexit. As did a host of celebrities, captains of industry and politicians. They included household names like Michael Caine, John Cleese, Joan Collins, Theo Paphitis, James Dyson, Bernie Ecclestone and even ex-footballers David James and Sol Campbell. Furthermore, to top it all, The Sun revealed how the head of state was behind the campaign with its remarkable "Queen Backs Brexit" front-page.
And don't forget how the margin of victory was decisive - 17.4 million for "leave" and only 16.1 million opting to 'remain." That's a difference of 1.3 million voters.
Putin, Putin, Putin, Putin
But the Guardian continues to bang the Putin drum. This time jumping on a report from the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee to exaggerate the narrative. Speaking of "foreign interference in last year's Brexit vote," it tells us "the committee does not identify who may have been responsible, but has noted that both Russia and China use an approach to cyber-attacks."
And the key argument is how external actors may have organized the collapse of a voter registration website which resulted in "concerns that tens of thousands of people could have been disenfranchised." Now, given leave, as noted above, won by a margin of 1.3 million, the newspaper is clutching at straws.
It's also worth observing how despite the equal billing given to China by parliamentarians, the Guardian's headline only focuses on Putin personally. Which should remind everyone of last year when they illustrated the "Panama Papers" revelations with the Russian President's image, despite him not even being referenced in the leak. As it happened, David Cameron was. And Ukraine's Petro Poroshenko.
At present, it seems Putin is the Guardian's villain for all seasons. Which is not only depressingly sophomoric, it's also pathetic, dismal and negligent. Not to mention how there are surely ethical implications. Particularly for a newspaper which erroneously presents itself as impartial, equitable and balanced.