President Obama is warning against financial and international “hysteria” in the wake of last week’s vote by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union.
“I think that the best way to think about this is, a pause button has been pressed on the project of full European integration,” Obama said of the so-called “Brexit” decision in a wide-ranging interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep.
“I would not overstate it,” the president continued. “There’s been a little bit of hysteria post-Brexit vote, as if somehow NATO’s gone, the trans-Atlantic alliance is dissolving, and every country is rushing off to its own corner. That’s not what’s happening.”
After the vote last week by one of the U.S.’s most important allies, Obama said he respected the country’s decision, which he said “speaks to the ongoing changes and challenges that are raised by globalization.”
Obama, like many world leaders, had opposed such a move. Following the surprising decision by Britain, stocks fell domestically and internationally.
While the president had remained restrained in his immediate response to the vote, Vice President Joe Biden was more blunt. Speaking in Ireland on Friday, Biden warned against the “reactionary politicians and demagogues peddling xenophobia, nationalism and isolationism.”
Many have drawn comparisons to the U.K.’s decision in the wake of concerns about terrorism and immigration to the same sentiment fueling the rise of presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump in the United States.
But speaking to NPR’s Inskeep, Obama said the Brexit vote was largely a reaction to a rapidly growing EU “that was probably moving faster and without as much consensus as it should have.”
“I think this will be a moment when all of Europe says, ‘Let’s take a breath and let’s figure out how do we maintain some of our national identities, how do we preserve the benefits of integration, and how do we deal with some of the frustrations that our own voters are feeling,’ ” the president predicted.
Ultimately, Obama said, he doesn’t “anticipate that there is going to be major cataclysmic changes as a consequence of this.”
“Keep in mind that Norway is not a member of the European Union, but Norway is one of our closest allies,” Obama added. “They align themselves on almost every issue with Europe and us. They are a place that is continually supporting the kinds of initiatives internationally that we support, and, if over the course of what is going to be at least a two-year negotiation between England and Europe, Great Britain ends up being affiliated to Europe like Norway is, the average person is not going to notice a big change.”
Even if the Brexit decision was fueled by populist anger, Obama argued, that supporting Trump was not the way to register such frustration.
“Mr. Trump embodies global elites and has taken full advantage of it his entire life,” the president said. “So, he’s hardly a spokesperson — a legitimate spokesperson — for a populist surge of working-class people on either side of the Atlantic.”