U.S. warns Britain not to drift away from EU

LONDON Wed Jan 9, 2013 8:31pm GMT

The seats of Britain's members of the European Parliament are seen ahead of a debate on the last EU summit at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, December 13, 2011. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

The seats of Britain's members of the European Parliament are seen ahead of a debate on the last EU summit at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, December 13, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Vincent Kessler

LONDON (Reuters) - The United States wants Britain to stay in the European Union and fears a British exit would run against U.S. interests, a senior official in Barack Obama's administration said on Wednesday.

In a strongly-worded intervention days before British Prime Minister David Cameron delivers his most important speech on Europe, Britain's closest ally said it needed London to retain a "strong voice" within the EU.

"We have a growing relationship with the EU as an institution, which has an increasing voice in the world, and we want to see a strong British voice in that EU," Philip H. Gordon, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, told reporters at a briefing in London.

"That is in America's interests," he said, according to two journalists present.

"More than most others, its (Britain's) voice within the European Union is essential and critical to the United States."

U.S. officials have made similar warnings in private in recent weeks, but it was the first time a named senior member of Obama's government had spoken on the record about the risks posed by Britain's debate about its EU future.

Britain's fraught relations with Europe have climbed to the top of the political agenda in recent months, with rebellious anti-EU members of Cameron's ruling Conservatives demanding a new UK role inside the bloc or a referendum on whether Britain should leave altogether.

"TURNING INWARD"

Urging Britain and the EU to focus on issues such as growth and jobs rather than on the EU's internal workings, Gordon said "referendums have often turned countries inward".

"It is best for everyone, we think, when leaders have the time to be able to focus on common challenges rather than spending their time on internal workings," Gordon said.

"The more the EU reflects on its internal debate, the less it is able to be unified."

Some UK eurosceptics argue that if Britain turned its back on the EU, its biggest trading partner, it could compensate by forging closer ties with the United States.

British business leaders warned earlier on Wednesday that a UK exit from Europe would leave it outside a possible future free trade deal between the EU and the United States.

Cameron, who wants Britain to stay inside Europe, has said the euro zone's debt crisis will change the bloc's rules and means London must redefine its relations with Brussels.

The British leader is widely expected to use his Europe speech in the coming days to announce plans for a referendum on Britain's new EU role. His opponents say that could push London towards the EU exit door.

A spokeswoman for Cameron's Downing Street office said: "The U.S. wants an outward-looking EU with Britain in it, and so do we."

The opposition Labour Party's foreign affairs spokesman Douglas Alexander said the U.S. comments and the warning from British business leaders raised concerns about Britain's role in Europe.

"There is today a real risk of Britain sleepwalking towards exit because of a prime minister motivated more by the need for party unity than by the interests of the country," he said.

(Editing by Andrew Roche)

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Comments (11)
Raymond.Vermont wrote:
One sure fire way for the British electorate to get infruriated by the prospects of further E.U enslavement, is for its people being dictated towards from across the Atlantic.

In fact the outcome would likely to be a very distinct Britain of three very different nations once again. (England, Scotland and Wales)

Jan 09, 2013 5:54pm GMT  --  Report as abuse
Raymond.Vermont wrote:
As illustrious French film actors have recently proved, there is a perfectly good life to be had outside of Europe.

Those SU-30′s and SU-33′s would look very pretty on the Queen Elizabeth carriers in 2020 too!

Jan 09, 2013 6:22pm GMT  --  Report as abuse
ColinBullen wrote:
Americans, with their well known love of democracy, should not seek to interfere when the citizens of their most reliable ally seek to escape from the totally undemocratic EU. They should wake up to the fact that those driving the EU are essentially anti American and that to submerge the UK within this vile organisation is against the self interest of the US as well as interests of the British people.

Jan 09, 2013 7:50pm GMT  --  Report as abuse
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