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Obama, In London, Encourages Britain To Stay In The European Union

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

President Obama is in London today. There's been some ceremony, like lunch with the Queen. Obama will also be joining Prime Minister David Cameron in a town hall meeting with young people, and he's expected to use the event to lobby the British public to remain in the European Union. Britain is holding a referendum this June on whether to leave the EU. To find out how Brits are reacting to our president's visit, we called BBC correspondent Jonny Dymond in London. Hey.

JONNY DYMOND, BYLINE: Hi Lourdes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. This seems like it could backfire - an American president trying to possibly sway the British public. What are people there saying?

DYMOND: I think to some degree it has backfired - to a small degree because you've got both, you know, the people campaigning for Britain to leave the EU at the top - the sort senior politicians involved in that campaign - and a fair number of ordinary voters, I suppose you'd call it, sort of grumbling and saying this is just not his place. And amongst - there's a political class that chatters, well, look, America would never bend the knee as Britain has to in its membership of the EU. It would never give up so much sovereignty. So why is President Obama coming over to tell Britain about what it should do as far as its referendum is concerned? And of course this does actually go, funnily enough, to the heart of this campaign...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Relationship. Yeah.

DYMOND: Yeah, and the relationship as well, which is perhaps a fundamental misunderstanding amongst some Britains, that it is a relationship of equals, and it is of course not. Britain is not America. And though it then goes back even further to effectively what the Secretary of State Dean Acheson said about Britain, which it had lost an empire and not yet found a role. And this is the latest installment of Britain trying to find a role. And yes, having an American come over, albeit one who is hugely, stratospherically popular here in the U.K, President Obama, having him come over and, I suppose, stir the pot a bit is riling some people. But I think the presumption is that because of his popularity and the sobriety of what he is saying and the way he is saying it...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, he is President Obama, after all.

DYMOND: Indeed.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He is a very sober fellow. Just remind us briefly why the U.S. is getting involved in this. What is in it for us?

DYMOND: Well, I mean, Britain acts as some kind of a bridge, I suppose, to Europe for the U.S. It acts as a cheerleader for the U.S. within the European Union, certainly. It also represents many the values that the U.S. embraces within the European Union - open markets, free markets. This isn't just about the sort of glories of the special relationship, although that is of course mentioned in the second paragraph of the president's article in one of the main newspapers here today. It's about realism, about projecting American values in Europe and about building a relationship in Europe and not letting the kind of multilateral institutions that have grown up since the Second World War that are largely American-sponsored and designed, not letting those wither on the vine in the face of so many different threats and challenges, both military and ideological around the world.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jonny, just briefly, do you think Mr. Obama can convince anyone? Do you think this is actually a useful use of his time?

DYMOND: I think it's hugely useful for the campaign to stay in the EU. I think he is a respected figure, a very popular figure. I think he probably will change people's minds, which is why there's been such an effort, really, to do him down before he came here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The BBC's Jonny Dymond. Great to have you.

DYMOND: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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