You can tell that the Brexiteers fear Obama because Boris Johnson has pre-emptively rubbished his intervention as “nakedly hypocritical”. As the mayor of London sees it, Americans are deeply opposed to the surrender of sovereignty and self-determination to supranational organisations such as the international criminal court. Why, then, should Britain be sanguine about unaccountable Brussels bureaucrats?
In an interview with the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, he even muttered darkly about the past intrusions of the CIA in Europe’s destiny – sounding, just for a moment, like David Icke as imagined by PG Wodehouse. On Sunday #Ian Botham was sent out to bat for Brexit in anticipation of Obama’s visit. The president’s endorsement of Britain’s membership of the EU is already making headlines. The challenge for Britain Stronger in Europe – officially designated last week as the lead remain campaign – is to harness, exploit and maintain the energy that Obama brings to their cause. All the available data suggests that this race is, for now, extremely close, and will be decided to a considerable extent by the respective campaigns’ ability to influence turnout.
Vote Leave – the official pro-Brexit campaign – has failed conspicuously to match the remainers’ list of supportive senior politicians, world leaders, economic organisations and businesses. In 1975, when Britain’s role in Europe was last subjected to a referendum, that wall of establishment opinion was enough to settle the matter. Not so in 2016. In the early 21st century we have become ever more suspicious of elites, of professions and defenders of any status quo.
The original Facebook slogan – “Move fast and break things” – captures the disruptive spirit of the age. And that spirit is personified by nobody better than Johnson himself, the anti-politician who puts the fun into fundamental change. But as Lee Vinsel and Andrew Russell, of the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, argue in an essay – reported on recently by Fortune – our swooning passion for disruption and aggressive innovation has blinded us to the less exciting but equally important “maintainers”: the people who keep systems running and operate the infrastructure that makes swashbuckling experimentation possible.
When President Obama arrives in Britain this week he will have a busy itinerary ahead of him, from wishing the Queen a happy 90th to talks with David Cameron about Syria and Islamic State. But, as the presumptive leader of the free world, he regards one task above all others as his paramount responsibility on this trip: to dissuade British voters from leaving the European Union.