Obama slammed as 'perverse' by London mayor over 'Brexit'

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Perverse and Hypocritical: Obama's E.U. Advice Rejected by London's Mayor

LONDON — President Obama and London Mayor Boris Johnson traded sharp rhetoric Friday over Britain's national referendum on the European Union, a battle that spilled from the pages of local newspapers and into public appearances.

The Obama-Johnson feud started with the publication of an op-ed article in The Daily Telegraph, timed with the president's arrival in London for a birthday lunch with Queen Elizabeth II, in which he urged British voters to choose to remain in the EU.

Britons will vote in a June 23 referendum on whether to remain in the EU or leave. The so-called Brexit debate has divided the country (PDF) and its political establishment.

SEE ALSO: 'Brexit' Vote: Why Britain Could Quit EU and Why America Cares

In his op-ed, Obama argued that European coordination on intelligence sharing, counterterrorism and economic growth "will be far more effective" if Britain stays. "The European Union doesn't moderate British influence — it magnifies it. A strong Europe is not a threat to Britain's global leadership; it enhances Britain's global leadership."

Johnson, who was born in New York, wrote an an angry riposte in The Sun. "It is incoherent. It is inconsistent, and yes it is downright hypocritical," he wrote. "The Americans would never contemplate anything like the EU, for themselves or for their neighbors in their own hemisphere. Why should they think it right for us?"

He later doubled down on those remarks. "It is very odd, it is perverse, it is hypocritical," he told reporters.

The mayor also criticized Obama for removing a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office of the White House. "Some said it was a symbol of the part-Kenyan President's ancestral dislike of the British empire — of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender," Johnson wrote. Kenya was a British colony until 1963.

Obama responded in a press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, the leading voice in favor of remaining in the EU.

SEE ALSO: Obama Warns Britain on EU 'Brexit' Vote: 'No Man Is an Island'

The president said he was just offering on his opinion on something that could impact the United States. He said he wasn't being hypocritical, since the United States is already part of the United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund and NATO.

He dashed hopes among anti-EU campaigners that Britain could negotiate a new trade deal with America, saying an isolated United Kingdom "is going to be in the back of the queue."

And Obama clarified the Churchill bust issue, saying that the figure was removed from the Oval Office to make way for a bust of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (which sits next to one of Abraham Lincoln) and stressed that a second Churchill bust still sits outside his White House office.

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

That turned the spotlight back to Johnson, who told reporters that he was "a huge fan" of Obama's but repeated the charge of hypocrisy. He accused the United States of refusing to subject its citizens to the International Criminal Court or adopt a U.N. conventions on children's rights. Asking the United Kingdom to stay in the EU "is very, very perverse," he said.

Johnson dodged questions about Obama's Kenyan ancestry and whether his op-ed was racist. "I think people are trying to distract from the issue," he said as he walked away from reporters.

Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith told The Daily Expressthat he could "imagine no circumstances" under which Obama would accept foreign control or taxes over the United States.

"What I do find strange is that he is asking the British people to accept a situation that he patently would not recommend to the American population," said Duncan Smith, who remains an influential member of Parliament.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, another anti-EU Conservative member of Parliament, said: "I can't think the British people will want to be told what to do by a rather unsuccessful American president who has had one of the least successful foreign policies in modern history."

Churchill's grandson Nicholas Soames, who is also a member of parliament, said Johnson's response was "appalling."

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Obama slammed as 'perverse' by London mayor over 'Brexit'
Britain's Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip welcome U.S President Barrack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama on their arrival at Windsor Castle for a private lunch, in Windsor, Britain, April 22, 2016. REUTERS/Jack Hill/Pool
President Barack Obama and his wife first lady Michelle Obama are greeted by Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip after landing by helicopter at Windsor Castle for a private lunch in Windsor, Britain, April, 22, 2016. REUTERS/Alastair Grant/Pool
President Barack Obama, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, right, get into a car after after arriving at Windsor Castle for a private lunch in Windsor, Britain, Friday, April, 22, 2016. REUTERS/Alastair Grant/Pool
The arrival of the President of the United States and First Lady with HRH the Queen driven by the Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, at the Sovereign's Entrance in the Quadrangle of Windsor Castle, Britain April 22, 2016. REUTERS/Geoff Pugh/Pool
U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are greeted by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh upon their arrival for lunch at Windsor Castle in Windsor, Britain April 22, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
The arrival of the President of the United States and First Lady with HRH the Queen driven by the Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, at the Sovereign's Entrance in the Quadrangle of Windsor Castle, Britain April 22, 2016. REUTERS/Geoff Pugh/Pool
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh stand with the President and First Lady of the United States Barack Obama and his wife Michelle (both centre), in the Oak Room at Windsor Castle ahead of a private lunch hosted by the Queen in Windsor, Britain, April 22, 2016. REUTERS/John Stillwell/Pool
U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama depart Winfield House in London to have lunch with Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle April 22, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 22: US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are greeted by Prince Harry, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge as they arrive for a dinner at Kensington Palace on April 22, 2016 in London, England. The President and his wife are currently on a brief visit to the UK where they attended lunch with HM Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle and later will have dinner with Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge at Kensington Palace. Mr Obama visited 10 Downing Street this afternoon and held a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron where he stated his case for the UK to remain inside the European Union. (Photo by Chris Radburn - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 22: The President of the United States Barack Obama (R) greeted by British Prime Minister David Cameron (L) prior to their meeting in Downing Street in London, England on April 22, 2016. (Photo by Tolga Akmen/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 22: Prince Harry, US President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge pose as they attend a dinner at Kensington Palace on April 22, 2016 in London, England. The President and his wife are currently on a brief visit to the UK where they attended lunch with HM Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle and later will have dinner with Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge at Kensington Palace. Mr Obama visited 10 Downing Street this afternoon and held a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron where he stated his case for the UK to remain inside the European Union. (Photo by Chris Radburn - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 22: In this handout provided by The White House, President Barack Obama, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and First Lady Michelle Obama talks with Prince George at Kensington Palace on April 22, 2016 in London, England. The President and his wife are currently on a brief visit to the UK where they attended lunch with HM Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle and later dinner with Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge at Kensington Palace. Mr Obama visited 10 Downing Street this afternoon and held a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron where he stated his case for the UK to remain inside the European Union. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 22: In this handout provided by The White House, President Barack Obama talks with the Prince William, Duke of Cambridge as Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge plays with Prince George as First Lady Michelle Obama talks with Prince Henry at Kensington Palace on April 22, 2016 in London, England. The President and his wife are currently on a brief visit to the UK where they attended lunch with HM Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle and later dinner with Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge at Kensington Palace. Mr Obama visited 10 Downing Street this afternoon and held a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron where he stated his case for the UK to remain inside the European Union.(Photo by Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 22: Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge speaks with First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama in the Drawing Room of Apartment 1A Kensington Palace as they attend a dinner on April 22, 2016 in London, England. The President and his wife are currently on a brief visit to the UK where they attended lunch with HM Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle and later will have dinner with Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge at Kensington Palace. Mr Obama visited 10 Downing Street this afternoon and held a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron where he stated his case for the UK to remain inside the European Union. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 22: US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are greeted by Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge as they arrive for a dinner at Kensington Palace on April 22, 2016 in London, England. The President and his wife are currently on a brief visit to the UK where they attended lunch with HM Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle and later will have dinner with Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge at Kensington Palace. Mr Obama visited 10 Downing Street this afternoon and held a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron where he stated his case for the UK to remain inside the European Union. (Photo by Chris Radburn - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 22: Prince William, Duke of Cambridge speaks with US President Barack Obama in the Drawing Room of Apartment 1A Kensington Palace as they attend a dinner on April 22, 2016 in London, England. The President and his wife are currently on a brief visit to the UK where they attended lunch with HM Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle and later will have dinner with Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge at Kensington Palace. Mr Obama visited 10 Downing Street this afternoon and held a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron where he stated his case for the UK to remain inside the European Union. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 22: First Lady Michelle Obama and US President Barack Obama arrive for a dinner with Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry at Kensington Palace on April 22, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 22: US President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge pose as they attend a dinner at Kensington Palace on April 22, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 22: Prince William, Duke of Cambridge speaks with US President Barack Obama in the Drawing Room of Apartment 1A Kensington Palace as they attend a dinner on April 22, 2016 in London, England. The President and his wife are currently on a brief visit to the UK where they attended lunch with HM Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle and later will have dinner with Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge at Kensington Palace. Mr Obama visited 10 Downing Street this afternoon and held a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron where he stated his case for the UK to remain inside the European Union. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 22: Prince Harry, US President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge pose as they attend a dinner at Kensington Palace on April 22, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 22: President Barack Obama greets British Prime Minister David Cameron as they meet at Downing Street on April 22, 2016 in London, England. The President and his wife are currently on a brief visit to the UK where they will have lunch with HM Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle and dinner with Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge at Kensington Palace. Mr Obama will visit 10 Downing Street on Friday afternoon where he is to hold a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron and is expected to make his case for the UK to remain inside the European Union. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
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