British Prime Minisger Theresa May and U.S. President Barack Obama conduct a joint press conference Sunday on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China. Photo courtesy of White House
HANGZHOU, China, Sept. 4 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama said it was wrong for British residents to vote to leave the European Union but he promised to maintain close ties between the two nations.
"It is absolutely true that I believed pre-Brexit vote and continue to believe post-Brexit vote that the world benefited enormously from the United Kingdom's participation in the EU," Obama said in a joint news conference with new British Prime Minister Theresa May at the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China. "We are fully supportive of a process that is as little disruptive as possible so that people around the world can continue to benefit from economic growth."
He said the United States would not "punish" Britain for the decision.
"We will consult closely with [May] as she and her government move forward with Brexit negotiations to ensure that we don't see adverse effects in trade and commercial relationships."
In fact, he expects a stronger relationsthip.
"It will not simply endure, but it will continue to grow stronger with time," Obama said. "The vibrant economic partnership between our countries will continue, as the U.K. gains further clarity on its new relationship with the EU."
In April in London, Obama had warned that Britain would go to the "back of the queue" in trade talks with the United States if it voted to leave the European Union.
"Leave" campaigners resented what they believed was intervention in their political matter.
Obama didn't apologize for his remarks in London.
"The bottom line is we don't have a stronger partner anywhere in the world than the United Kingdom, and despite the turbulence of political events over the last several months we have every intention to making sure that that continues.''
Japan, whose banks and auto companies are heavily invested in Britain, warned May that its companies could move offices out of Britain.
"Japanese businesses with their European headquarters in the U.K. may decide to transfer their head-office function to Continental Europe if EU laws cease to be applicable in the U.K. after its withdrawal," according to a report from Japan's foreign ministry.
The report ended its summary: "Japan is willing to cooperate so that the process of negotiations for the U.K.'s withdrawal would move forward smoothly without causing major disturbance to the world economy.
Japanese firms employ an estimated 140,000 workers in the UK.
May said Birtain is looking to establish new trade relations worldwide.
"We need to build on that strong foundation as the U.K. leaves the EU," she said. "We're both strong supporters of free trade, and today, we discussed how to take forward consultations to ensure that the U.K. and the U.S. have the strongest possible trading relationship.
"And this reinforces my belief that as we forge a new global role for the U.K., we can and will seize the opportunities that Brexit presents, and make a success of it."
Obama also plans to meet with new Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has cracked down on drug criminals with massive killings some critics have decried as a human rights abuse.