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U.K. Set to Vote on E.U. Membership; State Department Employees Criticize Obama Syria Strategy; Imagine a World. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired June 21, 2016 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight: Prime Minister David Cameron makes a last-ditch attempt to keep the U.K. in the European Union.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID CAMERON, PRIME MINISTER, GREAT BRITAIN: Brits don't quit. We get involved. We take a lead. We make a difference. We get things done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Just days away from that critical referendum vote, two dueling news editors battle it out in our studio.
Plus: U.S. Senator John McCain joins the show live, as a lead State Department letter urges President Obama to radically rethink his Syria
AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
It's a vote by Britain and for Britain. But the result could change the course of European history forever. The U.K.'s referendum on whether to
remain in the E.U. is now less than two days away. And with opinion polls almost too close to call, Prime Minister David Cameron made this final
impassioned plea for an in vote.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAMERON: If we vote out, that's it. It is irreversible. We will leave Europe for good. And the next generation will have to live with the
consequences far longer than the rest of us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And whether to back or buck Brexit has thrown global markets and the pound into chaos amid warnings from global investor and currency
speculator, George Soros, that leaving the E.U. could cause, quote, "a Black Friday crash."
But sensing yet another national mood swing, the pound bounced back to its highest level in seven years.
So what about how Europe feels?
Well, political leaders have been begging Britain to stay. And across the U.K. and the continent, newspapers are also wading in. I'm now joined by
two of the best.
Lionel Barber is the editor of the "Financial Times," who believes Britain should vote to stay.
And taking the opposite view is Fraser Nelson, editor of "The Spectator," who says the U.K. would be better off out.
AMANPOUR: Fraser Nelson, Lionel Barber, welcome to the program.
Two days to go; we've seen all the economic statistics that we've just talked about. The prime minister believed very strongly that the economic
argument was the best and the only argument that he should make for Remain.
Do you think that was wise, given the antiestablishment feeling that actually has cropped up in the interim?
LIONEL BARBER, EDITOR, "FINANCIAL TIMES": Well, we won't know until the result. If Remain wins, the prime minister and George Osborn will be
hailed as the architects of a great political campaign, again, having won the election last year.
If he loses, people will say why didn't he tackle immigration?
Why didn't he talk about immigration?
Because it's all been about the economics and the fear factor, saying, don't leave because the economy will go down, not just next year, not the
year after but for five, seven years.
AMANPOUR: So you're a Remain obviously, as we've said. You and your magazine, "The Spectator" are outers. The prime minister did what
politicians have done since time immemorial: betted on the bottom line, people's pocketbooks, economic self-interest of the individual voter.
Why do you not -- why do you think it has or hasn't worked if you don't think it's going to work?
FRASER NELSON, EDITOR, "THE SPECTATOR": Well, I suspect it will work. I suspect Britain will vote to remain --
Even though you're declaring out?
NELSON: Oh, yes. I mean, most people who I know anyway declaring out think it's a losing side but nonetheless the correct argument. The status
quo bias is very strong in referenda. People tend to vote for the devil they know.
So even if the polls are close, there is always that temptation to stick with what you know rather than take a leap in the dark. So that's why I
suspect will happen -- mind you, the British electorate have proved pundits wrong several times over the last few years.
But certainly, you must ask why is it so close, given, as David Cameron says, it's going to be economic Armageddon; he's going to have a punishment
budget and all of these terrible things.
Why do so many voters not believe him?
And I think it's because he's cried wolf so much. It sounds simply incredible.
Why is it Britain, which has created more jobs than the rest of Europe for quite a while, and why is it that we somehow owe our prosperity to this
continent, which is so obviously mired in economic trouble?
BARBER: The fact is that, in this country -- and we've discovered it and now are reporting it all over England, particularly -- there isn't any
great love for the E.U. at all. Not many people know how it works.
AMANPOUR: Well, we have a poll --
AMANPOUR: -- I think it's a Pew Research poll -- that actually shows quite graphically that people's love all over Europe for the E.U. is
actually not that great. Nonetheless, most people in Europe are still begging Europe to stay together and begging Britain to stay.
But just as Lionel has said, that the Remain camp has sort of over-egged potentially the specificity of their economic predictions, the Leave camp
is accused of having no specifics and being very uncertain about the future, what it would look like in terms of economics.
And they've veered. They feel like they've -- here, the economic argument is not for them and they've hung on to the immigration. It's become very
dirty, the immigration aspect to this, recently.
Does that trouble you?
NELSON: I wouldn't say it does trouble me. Immigration is the number one concern of the people of this country, has been for the last 10-15 years.
Now it's very easy if you're well off to say, oh, it doesn't matter. Immigration is great. It means we can get cheap nannies, cheap plumbers.
If you're competing with these people for jobs, then it is a real concern. If you believe David Cameron, when he said he would cut immigration down
below 100,000, then you are concerned that the E.U. means, as long as we're a member of this, we'll never going to hit that target. It is important.
BARBER: You're quite right, Fraser, that the prime minister should not have made that shortsighted plea, where he thought he could limit
immigration to the tens of thousands.
The original sin was that Tony Blair, ridiculous, allowing all -- and saying there would be about 12,000 Poles and maybe Central Europeans coming
in in 2004-05 that British people were misled and then there were not enough financial measures to help local communities.
BARBER: -- but to go back to the interview with the prime minister this morning, what was interesting was he did talk about a Remain dividend, that
he said there had been a Brexit chill on the economy. He thinks that there will be a lift to the economy, not just the stock market.
And he also talked somewhat -- not always quite there but about that there is a political boost to the European Union and that there needs to be a
better selling case. Of course, this is a very late conversion -- Christiane.
AMANPOUR: Various prime ministers have underestimated the number of people coming into the --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All over the world.
AMANPOUR: -- correct. We've, though, seen that the numbers show that at least half of the immigrants coming in in the latest statistics for the
last year were from outside the E.U.
What is your vision or what is the Out campaign's vision for how immigration is limited?
NELSON: Well, my vision doesn't really count. But let's take the OECD, did a report on all of this. It estimated that if Britain votes out and we
regain the ability to control immigration from Europe, that will cut the figure by about 85,000.
No you can argue whether or not that's significant but that OECD estimate sounded fair to me. But I don't think it's the numbers so much that's the
issue. I think the number is the general ability of a country to control its borders.
Right now, those who feel they're adversely affected by globalization, by immigration -- we're talking the skilled working class, about three-
quarters of whom almost are for Brexit -- now they want to feel that they've got the protection of a nation state, that that can control its own
It's not xenophobic to want the E.U. countries to do that and we can see that right over Europe. So it's the ability for the control, what people
are seeking, not a specific figure.
AMANPOUR: You know, I went back looking at this take back control and the borders --
AMANPOUR: -- yes -- and it resonates. I went back and I saw how the Mellon (ph) quoted as basically saying back in 1962, we have to consider
the state of the world as it is today and will be tomorrow and not in the outdated terms of a vanished past.
And you probably all have read A.A. Gill (ph), our friend, who said the big drug of the moment is this pernicious thing called nostalgia.
Is there just a little too much nostalgia in this idea of taking back control in our interconnected and independent world?
That sovereignty doesn't mean, I don't know, being an island again?
NELSON: It would be a sad thing if we thought that the very notion of a nation state was from yesteryear and that seeking a nation state is
nostalgia. But (INAUDIBLE) something important about it. A nation state is a social unit as well as an economic unit. It binds people together.
And right now one of the main persuasions of people who want Brexit is the parochialness (sic) of the European Union, the way it tries to build a wall
around a continent.
Why can't we lift our eyes toward distant horizons and trade with the world?
This is Britain, the original country of empire.
Why do we have to discriminate against people from outside the European Union, which we do right now?
I think it's an outrage. I think it ought to be ended. So the Brexiters I think are globalists in outlook, very easily caricatured as Little
Englanders, but that's not the case.
AMANPOUR: Is it fair to talk about Little Englanders instead of Great Britain?
BARBER: That's a little bit of a jibe. I mean, I do think there are some in the Brexit camp who would definitely belittle (ph) Little England.
BARBER: But I respect those who don't want to belittle Britain and that there is a sense that this country can, of course, stand on its own two
But the idea that we turn into Venice of the 21st century, where we have incredibly favorable trade arrangements with other big powers like China
and America, we'd be picked apart. It would be very difficult to negotiate those. It would take a lot of time.
Huge amount of uncertainty, not (INAUDIBLE) months but years. So there's a real risk on the down side. And I do think the other point -- which is not
probably talked about in this country, because we tend to look at sovereignty like virginity: it's either you've got it or you haven't. And
the fact is that sovereignty is shared. There are some things we do on trade. We think we're bigger together so we negotiate together.
AMANPOUR: The assassination of Jo Cox, what effect, do you think, if any, it has had on polls, on the mood and potentially the result?
NELSON: It's very difficult to tell; it's actually very difficult to weigh such an atrocity for its political value or not.
When something similar happened in Sweden in 2003 during their euro campaign, their foreign minister was assassinated a week to go before the
referendum. It was seen at the time to have a big effect, make Swedes more likely to vote to accept the euro.
It was later found to have no effect at all. People were able to disentangle their revulsion at the murder from the political question in
hand. And my gut feeling is that the same will probably happen this time.
BARBER: Very difficult to say, as Fraser says. It certainly took some heat out of the campaign -- maybe not such a bad thing. Of course, it's a
referendum campaign. There has got to be big debate, vigorous division, et cetera.
But I think the Leave campaign, certainly, they had a great 10 days and it may -- it was just the most appalling, despicable act -- it may have taken
a bit of the steam out of that side.
AMANPOUR: It's been really fascinating and everybody is still on tenterhooks. I'm so glad that you both came in. Lionel Barber of the
"FT," Fraser Nelson, "The Spectator," thank you so much for being with us tonight.
NELSON: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And coming up, the immigration crisis is fueled in part by the refugee crisis as Syria goes from bad to worse.
And now dozens of U.S. State Department officials are breaking with what they call failed U.S. policy. I asked senator and former Republican
presidential nominee, John McCain, whether this might spur change. That's next.
AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.
Terror in Jordan today when a suicide attacker from Syria drove across the border, detonated his car and killed six Jordanian security forces.
Jordan's king vows to strike back with, quote, "an iron fist."
While U.S. President Barack Obama insists that his mild military strategy in Syria is the right one, a new crop of critics is making its voice heard.
Employees at the U.S. State Department, a leaked memo of dissent, written by a record 51 mid-level officials there, calls for a more muscular
military posture and strikes against Bashar al-Assad's military might.
They say it is time the United States, guided by our strategic interests and moral convictions, lead a global effort to put an end to this conflict
once and for all.
Republican senator John McCain has long been one of those critics of --
AMANPOUR: -- President Obama's Syria strategy and he joins me now from Capitol Hill.
AMANPOUR: Senator, welcome to the program -- and I know that you have long believed what these State Department officials say, that there needs to be
a more robust response.
So how significant is it that this number of officials has written this letter, which has been leaked?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZ.: Well, Christiane, it's unprecedented, I think that it's impactful. And these are professionals that articulate the views
of most respected people, like Ambassador Robert Ford, who you know is the former ambassador to Syria, a widely respected individual.
So it's unprecedented and, very frankly, as you know, I agree with it. It's not ISIS that has barrel bombed thousands of innocent men, women and
children; it's not ISIS that used chemical weapons to kill thousands of innocent men, women and children and the prisons are full.
You know the atrocities that have been committed by Bashar al-Assad; whereas we have not in any way braked not only him but impeded this unholy
alliance that exists now between Iran, Syria and Russia.
AMANPOUR: Senator, we know that -- we've heard Secretary of State Kerry has met with about 10 members of these dissenters, so to speak. But we've
also heard from President Obama's spokesman and I want to play you what he said about the potential for any action on this letter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think we've been just as clear about the president's policy in Syria, how it has not led yet to the
results that we would like to see in Syria.
But it has prevented a repetition of mistakes that previous administrations have made. The United States will not be successful, nor will anyone else
in imposing a military solution on the problems inside of Syria. That, I think, is a basic lesson that we learned after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Senator, he's categoric. It seems that there's no room for movement in the Obama administration and they don't believe that military
might against Assad is appropriate or would work.
What's going to change their mind?
MCCAIN: Well, as you know then-secretary of state Clinton, Secretary of Defense Panetta and then-CIA director David Petraeus, back in 2011, called
for arming and training the Free Syrian Army and trying to reverse what was happening. President Obama turned that down.
And, you know, after a while, after eight years, don't you think we'd get a little tired of the BIOB, "blame it on Bush," when the fact is that, thanks
to the surge, the conflict was over, it was over and the Al Qaeda in Iraq moved to Syria, morphed into ISIS and now we're seeing results of that
failure because then President Obama removed all troops from Iraq, leaving a destabilizing and destabilized situation, which we predicted, because of
the removal of all the troops, all the hard-won gains would be lost because of the ensuing lack of American presence and stabilizing forces.
And finally, the same stabilizing forces in Europe, Japan, Korea, Bosnia and what didn't do, by the way, in Libya.
AMANPOUR: Indeed. And, Senator, you just mentioned Hillary Clinton, who is on record as having had a much more robust military recommendation for
Basically, are you saying that you could work with a President Clinton on a potential policy for Syria, given what you know her views are?
And, if so, why are you supporting Donald Trump?
MCCAIN: Well, first of all, I will work with any president. I have to for the good of the country. There's nothing more transcendent than our
And the failures of this administration -- you were just mentioning an unprecedented number of refugees since the end of World War II; the attacks
in the United States, the attacks in Europe. All of these didn't happen by accident.
They were caused by Barack Obama and by Barack Obama's policies and failure to act, even over the objection and recommendation of some very talented
and knowledgeable people -- and I'm speaking of Petraeus, Hillary Clinton and, of course, Leon Panetta.
AMANPOUR: So again, this is such an important issue and we've had these eight years of -- or six years of inaction on Syria. Donald Trump does --
AMANPOUR: -- not have a plan for Syria and foreign policy is something that's going to be looked at very, very closely.
Why are you supporting him, Senator?
MCCAIN: Well, Hillary Clinton never spoke up. She never said I disagree with the president. She never said we should do this. We know because it
was leaked that it was a nonpublic meeting when those people went over.
If she felt so strongly about it, why didn't she speak up?
So I'm not proud of Hillary Clinton's performance on this issue just as I'm very disappointed in her total support as secretary of state for TPP and
then reversing her position in light of the threat from Bernie Sanders. That's not reliability.
AMANPOUR: OK, I'm going to move on because I know you don't want to address the Trump thing.
So let me ask you about the Russians basically. We have reports or there are reports that the Russian warplanes have been striking U.S.-backed Sunni
fighters in Syria, despite repeated warnings from American commanders.
A, how does one fix that and how can one tolerate that?
And, B, it appears that the State Department -- and believes that there's some way they can work with Putin to bring Assad to the table. But that
MCCAIN: Well, it's been a series of failures and a -- based on the fundamental belief that the president thought, just because America gets
out of conflicts, those conflicts end.
We know that, from the beginning, the Russians were bombing the moderate forces rather than ISIS. We know that Vladimir Putin is aligned with the
Russians and Hezbollah. We know that Bashar al-Assad was teetering on failing until the Russians and more Iranian influence with Hezbollah came
into the fight.
So it's been one failure after another. And now Vladimir Putin, for the first time since 1973, when Anwar Sadat threw the Russians out of Egypt,
are now a major player in the Middle East.
And so, listen, one thing you can count on: John Kerry will call for another meeting of many nations in Geneva. That's one thing you can be
sure of. And they will meet and they will work very hard to see that these conflicts stop. And we'll all feel better.
AMANPOUR: On that note, Senator John McCain, thank you for joining me from Capitol Hill.
MCCAIN: Thank you. Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And up next, a man who casts a long shadow not only over Syria but also over Britain's Brexit debate, as you just heard, it is Vladimir
Putin. Remainers frequently invoke the specter of the Russian president, celebrating an Out--come. We imagine that world -- after this.
AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, we imagine one shadowy figure looming over the Brexit debate. Russian president Vladimir Putin has been described as,
quote, "waiting to pop the champagne corks" at the very idea of a Brexit.
Let's find out from Matthew Chance in Moscow.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He seems to have a talent for appearing at the center of international crises.
The battle over Brexit is no exception.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only country, if the truth is told, that would like us to leave the E.U. is Russia. And that should probably tell us all that
we need to know.
CHANCE (voice-over): That Putin specter has become an unlikely battle cry for Britain's Remainers, campaigning to stay in the E.U.
CAMERON: Who would be happy if we left?
Putin might be happy and I suspect --
CHANCE (voice-over): Even the British prime minister dragging in the Russian leader's name.
But now, after months of goading, Putin is finally breaking his silence, lashing out with a thinly veiled attack on the British referendum and on
the man who called it.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): Concerning the prime minister of Great Britain, there is now such a big problem with
Why did he initiate this vote?
Why did he do that, to blackmail Europe again or to scare someone?
What call was there if he is against it himself?
CHANCE: The frequent reference to Vladimir Putin throughout the Brexit campaign has been a source of great irritation to many inside the Kremlin.
Russian diplomats in London have even issued a sharply worded statement, condemning what they call "the wicked Russia thesis."
Though as far as the Kremlin is concerned, it has no official position whatsoever on whether Britain stays in or leaves the E.U.
CHANCE (voice-over): But to Russia, Europe does matter. It's currently hit, for instance, with tough E.U. sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine,
part of a broader rivalry with the West, if you see Moscow as an impartial observer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are many people in Russia, many people in the Kremlin that might smile at the idea of the European Union --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, many people will smile.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- suffering, weakening --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They see it as a sort of zero-sum gain.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You lose, we win, that --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it's many -- yes, it's true. It's true, many people will smile and so there are many groups in the political class and
many people in the society, who will think that it is actually in Russia's interests if disintegration starts in the European Union.
CHANCE (voice-over): Of course, not everyone thinks Russia would benefit. And many voters may not care even if it does. But as Britain decides on
its own European future, Russia, like the rest of the world, will be watching from afar -- Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.
AMANPOUR: That's it for our program tonight. But at 10:00 pm British time, you can watch our E.U. referendum debate. Thanks for watching.
Goodbye from London.