WHITE HOUSE —
With world financial markets reeling from the shock that Britain voted to leave the European Union, U.S. President Barack Obama put out a measured statement Friday.
"The people of the United Kingdom have spoken, and we respect their decision." He added that the "special relationship" between the U.S. and Britain is "enduring," and that the latter's membership in NATO "remains a vital cornerstone of U.S. foreign, security, and economic policy."
On his last visit to Britain in April, President Obama stood beside British Prime Minister David Cameron and came out strongly opposing a so-called “Brexit” vote, saying if Britain voted to leave it would have to get to the "back of the queue" to forge new trade deals with the United States. Obama seemed to appeal to British voters, saying, "The United Kingdom is at its best when it is helping to lead a strong Europe. It leverages UK power to be part of the European Union."
In Friday’s statement after the stunning outcome of the vote, Obama highlighted the U.S. relationship with the European Union, saying the EU "has done so much to promote stability, stimulate economic growth, and foster the spread of democratic values and ideals across the continent and beyond.” He said that Britain and EU "will remain indispensable partners of the United States even as they begin negotiating their ongoing relationship to ensure continued stability, security and prosperity for Europe, Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the world."
Obama spoke by phone with Cameron Friday. A White House statement says they are both confident Britain "and the EU will negotiate a productive way forward to ensure financial stability, continued trade and investment, and the mutual prosperity they bring."
President Obama also spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Both said they regretted the decision but respected the will of the British people, and "agreed that the economic and financial teams of the G-7 partners will coordinate closely to ensure all are focused on financial stability and economic growth."
Speaking on a visit to Ireland, Vice President Joe Biden said, “We would have preferred a different outcome”, but also said the U.S. respects the will of the people.
Trump: ‘People want to take their country back’
In contrast, Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for U.S. president, welcomed the decision to leave the EU.
"People want to take their country back and they want to have independence in a sense. And you see it with Europe, all over Europe," said Trump, who was in Scotland to open a golf course.
Earlier Friday, Trump likened his candidacy to the referendum vote and said should he win the presidency in November, he would work to strengthen ties between the U.S. and an independent Britain.
"Come November, the American people will have the chance to re-declare their independence. Americans will have a chance to vote for trade, immigration and foreign policies that put our citizens first. They will have the chance to reject today’s rule by the global elite, and to embrace real change that delivers a government of, by and for the people," he said in a statement.
Clinton: Uncertainty underscores need for calm, steady leadership
Trump's likely opponent in the presidential race, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said in a statement, "We respect the choice the people of the United Kingdom have made." The chief task now, she said, is to "make sure that the economic uncertainty created by these events does not hurt working families here in America," while also making clear "America's steadfast commitment to the special relationship with Britain and the transatlantic alliance with Europe."
"This time of uncertainty only underscores the need for calm, steady, experienced leadership in the White House to protect Americans' pocketbooks and livelihoods, to support our friends and allies, to stand up to our adversaries, and to defend our interests," Clinton said. "It also underscores the need for us to pull together to solve our challenges as a country, not tear each other down."
Speaker Ryan: ‘America needs to lead’
Some Conservative commentators took to Twitter to blame Obama for wading into the Brexit debate during his April visit. Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan also sought to calm tumultuous global markets, and took an indirect swipe at the president’s leadership during a Friday news conference: “Obviously markets are going to react when new news and information like this occurs. I believe the markets will eventually stabilize. That’s point No 1. Point No. 2 – all the more reason for America to lead. America needs to lead. The world wants America to lead.”
Ryan also said, “England is our indispensable ally. Our friends in the United Kingdom are our indispensable ally and this is a very special relationship and that relationship is going to continue no matter what. Period. End of story.”