Obama: Post-Brexit Trade Deal Between U.K.-U.S. Could Take Decade

Trying to persuade the British public to vote against leaving the EU, Obama says Britain would be 'at the back of the queue' for a new trade deal with the U.S.

U.S. President Barack Obama pauses during a news conference, London, U.K., April 23, 2016.
Simon Dawson, Bloomberg

REUTERS - A trade deal between Britain and the United States could take five to ten years to negotiate if Britain votes to leave the European Union in a June 23 referendum, U.S. President Barack Obama told the BBC in an interview broadcast on Sunday.

Obama, who is in the final nine months of his presidency, has spent the last three days in London urging Britons to stay in the EU as the British public prepares to vote on whether to remain a member of the bloc.

"It could be five years from now, ten years from now before we're actually able to get something done," Obama told the British broadcaster, adding to his earlier warning that Britain would find itself at 'the back of the queue' for a new trade deal with the United States if it left the EU.

Obama's visit and decision to intervene in the EU debate has angered the Eurosceptic "Out" campaign, which has repeatedly argued that Britain could easily negotiate deals and get better terms outside the EU.

Answering that criticism, Obama said that his involvement had been justified because of the two countries' special relationship, and that he hoped he had been able to persuade some British voters.

"My hope is, is that this is something that would have some influence on how voters think," he said. Obama added that Britain would not get preferential treatment over the EU when it came to negotiating a new trade deal.

"The U.K. would not be able to negotiate something with the United States faster than the EU," Obama said. "We wouldn't abandon our efforts to negotiate a trade deal with our largest trading partner, the European market."

He said he hoped to conclude talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership - a trade deal between the EU and the United States - by the end of his term in office, although he said the agreement may not be ratified by the U.S. Congress before he leaves his post.

Last nine months

Obama also said he hoped that his final months in office would see the influence of ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria reduced.

"I do think that we can slowly shrink the environment in which they operate and take on strongholds like Mosul and Raqqa that is the beating heart of their movement," he said.

However, he dismissed the prospect of sending ground troops into the region to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad.

"It would be a mistake for the United States, or Great Britain, or a combination of Western states, to send in ground troops and overthrow the Assad regime," he said.

But the United States and others should use their international influence to persuade Assad allies, such as Russia and Iran, to broker a political transition, he said.

Obama also said the successful creation of global health security infrastructure that can be used to tackle the threat of diseases such as Ebola and Zika, and putting into effect climate change goals agreed in Paris were important goals for the last leg of his presidency.

"I'm a busy guy," he said. "This whole myth of a lame duck so far hasn't proved to be the case ...I won't get everything done that I want to get done, but I'll get a whole bunch done that makes these next nine months worthwhile."