America’s former ambassador to the EU has revealed that he was “very disappointed” by the warning which President Barack Obama gave the UK over the Brexit vote last year. Anthony Luzzatto Gardner, who was appointed to his post by the former President, said he had been in favour of intervening in the Referendum debate, but that Mr Obama’s choice of words was “very poor.”
President Obama used a state visit to the UK in April 2016 to warn that the UK would be at the “back of the queue” in any trade deal with the US if voters chose to leave the EU. He was responding to suggestions that the UK would be able to negotiate its own deal with the US, if the majority voted No.
Now Mr Luzzatto Gardner, a major fundraiser for Mr Obama and is former director for European Affairs on the National Security Council, said that although he was “very involved” with colleagues in deciding that the President should speak out, it did not go exactly as planned.
“Well, some of the things… particularly the phrase he used about ‘back of the queue’ was something I thought was very poor,” he admitted, adding that it was “very bad, very counter-productive.”
“I was surprised he said it,” Mr Luzzatto Gardner added. “I was very disappointed he said it. It was one of the few instances I can point to during my time that I was disappointed. I’m a huge fan of his but that was not good.
“I thought it was the right thing to speak up, by the way. And, you know, on the whole, I think it did sway voters, not as many as he thought, and I think our reasons were sound.”
Mr Luzzatto Gardner, who left his three year position as ambassador in January, added that he still thought Brexit was a mistake, for both the UK and US.
“All I’ll say is I was involved pretty closely in analysing almost every area of activity between the United States and the EU, and seeing how Brexit would impact. And in almost every area our conclusion was that it would be negative,” he revealed.
“The UK and the US are so philosophically aligned on so many issues – from competition, to trade, to digital economy, to Russia’s sanctions, the list is long – that having the UK leave the EU would damage our ability to influence the EU in a direction that we wanted.
Mr Luzzatto Gardner continued: “And we also worried that without the UK’s intellectual contribution to the EU, the EU at 27 [countries] would be at risk of going in a direction that was more protectionist, more state-centric, and more and more dominated by Germany, which is not a healthy thing. I also thought it would be bad for Britain, personally.”
Mr Luzzatto Gardner claimed that Brexit would be negative for the Jewish community and revealed he is fearful of political events in American and beyond, particularly the “decline in the civility of political debate”.
“What really troubles me, I think it troubles every person, and I would even argue it should trouble Jews particularly is that this country has changed,” he explained. “Because when judges are attacked the way they’ve been attacked, when the media is attacked the way they’ve been attacked, when Tory MPs have recently been attacked as saboteurs, mutineers, for speaking their mind, and when the government doesn’t react, particularly to the attack on the judiciary, something has changed.”
Mr Luzzatto Gardner, who lives in London, added that it was the violence of the language which made him uneasy. “Many of the things that we’re seeing in the United States I thought were only possible, frankly, in underdeveloped countries with weak democratic systems” he said. “Now, luckily, I see our system reacting. Our press is holding up, our checks and balances are holding up. The Congress is holding up and pushing back. The system, so far, is working. But I’m troubled by our political debate. It’s become so, so violent.”
Mr Luzzatto Gardner – who left his position after the election of President Trump – said that he would not “exclude” the possibility of a second Trump victory.
“A lot of his people still think he is doing just fine and he can do no harm,” he said. “That’s the big problem for me.”
He added that he thought it was time for people to “stand up for what they believe in” and said Hillary Clinton would have been a “wonderful President.”