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Obama Might Have Swayed British Voters in the Brexit Debate

President Obama Attends Town Hall Event In Central LondonPresident Obama Attends Town Hall Event In Central London
He said a Brexit would put Britain in the back of the queue for a trade deal with the U.S. Photograph by Max Mumby—Indigo Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama is wildly popular in the U.K. About three-fourths of Brits say he’s doing a good job as U.S. president; that’s higher than the marks U.K. nationals give their own leader Prime Minister David Cameron, whose approval rating stands at a lackluster 34%.

And it seems Obama’s rock-star status might have swayed the British people in the on-going debate over whether the U.K. should stay a member of the European Union.

On Monday, betting odds had moved sharply in favor of Brits voting to remain in the EU in the referendum that will take place June 23. The shift came after Obama weighed in on the topic on Friday, pleading with U.K. citizens to vote in favor of staying in the EU. He said Britain’s membership in the bloc had magnified its role on the global stage and had made the world freer, richer and better able to tackle everything from Russian aggression to terrorism. His stance aligned with that of Cameron, who has also urged Britain to stay.

The implied probability of a vote to remain in EU rose several percentage points to about 75%, according to live odds from bookmaker Betfair. Ladbrokes, another betting barometer that is based on live odds, also reported a shift in betting towards the “remain” campaign, indicating on Monday a 73% chance of Britain voting to remain.


Up until now, opinion polls have showed British voters leaning towards the “remain” camp, but they’ve also revealed a large swath of undecideds.

Obama’s comments were welcomed by those campaigning for the status quo, who are fearing low turnout among young voters. Many young Brits—along with celebrities Benedict Cumberbatch and Annie Lennox—were in the audience at a town hall in London on Saturday, during which Obama reiterated his call for the U.K. to stay in the political bloc. In a rather casual setting—Obama wore no jacket and joked about British and American history—the president said that voters should reject renewed calls for isolation that have come in response to changing and uncertain times. Instead, they should “take a longer and more optimistic view of history and the part that you can play in it.”

Opponents of Britain’s membership in the EU were furious with Obama’s remarks. New York-born London Mayor Boris Johnson, who leads the “Out” campaign, referred to Obama as “part-Kenyan” and said that he did not want to be lectured by Americans about EU membership. “For the United States to tell us in the U.K. that we must surrender control of so much of our democracy — it is a breathtaking example of the principle of do-as-I-say-but-not-as-I-do,” Johnson wrote.

Reuters contributed to this report.