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Obama Encourages British Voters Not To Sever Ties With European Union


President Obama tried to exert some friendly influence on British politics today. In an op-ed for a British newspaper and in a London news conference, he encouraged the U.K. not to sever ties with the European Union. Polls show many Brits are undecided whether to stay or go two months before a crucial vote. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama had a fine line to walk as he tried to sway public opinion in the U.K. without looking like a bossy American meddler.


BARACK OBAMA: Let me be clear - ultimately, this is something that the British voters have to decide for themselves.

HORSLEY: But part of being friends is being honest, Obama said. He says the U.S. wants to see Britain remain in the EU, arguing that's also how the U.K. can maximize its global influence.


OBAMA: In the 21st century, the nations that make their presence felt on the world stage aren't the nations that go it alone, but the nations that team up to aggregate their power and multiply their influence.

HORSLEY: British Prime Minster David Cameron invited Obama to weigh in like this. The American president is more popular in the U.K. than Cameron is. And the prime minister hopes Obama can mobilize young people and win undecided voters to the stay column.


DAVID CAMERON: This is our choice. But as we make that choice, it surely makes sense to listen to what our friends think

HORSLEY: British politicians who want to withdraw from the EU suggested, in varying tones, that the president should butt out. London Mayor Boris Johnson wrote a scathing op-ed reviving an old complaint about a bust of Winston Churchill that was removed from the Oval Office early in the Obama administration. The president notes he keeps a second bust of Churchill just outside his private office in the White House residence.


OBAMA: So that I see it every day, including on weekends, when I'm going into the office to watch a basketball game.

HORSLEY: Obama cautioned that pulling out of Europe would move Britain to the back of the line in trade talks with U.S. But he also offered reassurance that the emotional, cultural and intellectual ties between the two countries will endure, however the vote turns out.


OBAMA: That's the special relationship.

HORSLEY: Britain's government is also responding to U.S. politics. The Foreign Office warned that gay, lesbian and transgender travelers to the U.S. could be adversely affected by new laws in North Carolina and Mississippi that limit LGBT protections. Obama stressed the hospitality of the people in those states and encouraged Britons to visit.


OBAMA: I also think that the laws that have been passed there are wrong.

HORSLEY: The president was also asked today about the musician Prince, who died yesterday at age 57. Obama had an up-close view of the performer last summer, when Prince played a private concert at the White House for the first family and 500 guests. Obama described Prince as extraordinary, original and full of energy. He tried to tap into some of that energy this morning at Winfield House, the home of U.S. ambassador.


OBAMA: It so happens out ambassador has a turntable. And so this morning, we played "Purple Rain" and "Delirious" just to get warmed up.

HORSLEY: So on a day when he's dining with Queen Elizabeth and the duke and duchess of Cambridge, Obama's also remembering an American prince. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.