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Obama Brushes Off London ‘Brexit’ Backlash With Golf, Shakespeare

Obama Defends Opinion on Britain's Status in the EU 1:18

LONDON — President Barack Obama played a round of golf with Britain's prime minister and visited Shakespeare's original theater Saturday, a day after his controversial intervention in the U.K.'s 'Brexit' referendum on European Union membership.

The president teed off at The Grove, an exclusive course that is due to host the British Masters tournament later this year.

It was a more relaxed affair than Friday, when Obama faced ferocious criticism from some senior lawmakers for urging British voters to choose to stay in the EU in the June 23 poll.

In an op-ed in The Daily Telegraph on Friday, Obama wrote that continued membership would benefit European coordination on intelligence sharing, counterterrorism and economic growth.

New York-born London Mayor Boris Johnson, who is leading the campaign for Britain to quit the EU, led a backlash by describing the president's comments as "incoherent" and downright hypocritical."

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

"The Americans would never contemplate anything like the EU, for themselves or for their neighbors in their own hemisphere," he wrote. "Why should they think it right for us?"

"BARACK TURNS BULLY BOY," ran a Saturday headline in the conservative Daily Mail. The Murdoch-owned tabloid, The Sun, reported the president's intervention under the headline "BARACKMAIL."

Image: Britain's newspaper The Sun reported Obama's Brexit intervention under the headline "BARACKMAIL."
Britain's newspaper The Sun reported Obama's Brexit intervention under the headline "BARACKMAIL." Alastair Jamieson / NBC News

Obama defended his intervention, saying, "I'm not coming here to fix any votes."

He told a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday: "I'm not casting a vote myself. I'm offering my opinion. And in democracies, everybody should want more information, not less, and you shouldn't be afraid to hear an argument being made. That's not a threat."

The president also responded to Johnson's accusation that Obama, whose father was from Kenya, a former British colony, harbored an "ancestral dislike of the British empire."

Johnson said that explained why Obama removed of a bust of Winston Churchill from the White House.

Obama answered by saying that a second bust of Churchill sat outside his second-floor office, where he sees it every day.

His intervention was welcomed by Cameron and others. Former British ambassador to the U.S., Christopher Meyer, tweeted: "Obama only restated what the US has already told us. A bilateral trade deal will take second place to finishing TTIP negotiations e.g. 2020."

Also Friday, Obama enjoyed a birthday lunch with Queen Elizabeth II, who turned 90 the day before, and met young Prince George, wearing a white bath robe.

On Saturday, Obama played golf after answering questions from young Britons at a town hall event, and toured London's historic Globe theater, which is marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.