President Obama weighs in on the E.U. "Brexit" debate

LONDON --President Obama was in London Friday, where he offered Britain some friendly financial advice.

The visit was supposed to be about a polite lunch with the Queen, but Mr. Obama found himself in the middle of an ugly British political catfight -- now with an undercurrent of racism.

The president leapt firmly onto one side -- Prime Minister David Cameron's side -- in the angry referendum debate on whether Britain should stay in or leave the European Union.

Stay in, Mr. Obama said, you're better off. And if the side that wants out thinks Britain can get a special, quick trade deal with the U.S. on its own once it leaves the E.U., think again.

"It's not gonna happen anytime soon because our focus is in negotiating with a big block, the European Union, to get a trade agreement done," President Obama said. "And U.K.'s gonna be in the back of the queue."

Mr. Obama said he butted into the British E.U. debate as a friend. But those who want Britain to leave are saying, "Mind your own business. Butt out."

One big-hitter in the leave campaign even suggested in a newspaper that the president holds a grudge against the U.K. because his father was from British-ruled Kenya.

The writer, London Mayor Boris Johnson, is accused of "dog-whistle racism."

"I'm a fan, I think I was one of the first U.K. politicians to come out in favor of President Obama's candidacy," Johnson said.

Still, Johnson wrote that President Obama had removed a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office because of his distaste for all things British.

Nonsense, said the president. There's another Churchill bust upstairs.

"I love Winston Churchill. Love the guy," Mr. Obama said.

Voting day on the referendum is in late June and right now, it's too close to call.

  • Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips is CBS News senior foreign correspondent, based in London.