US warns influence in Washington weakened if UK left European Union

Thu, Jan 10, 2013, 00:00

British prime minister David Cameron has been warned by US president Barack Obama that the UK will be sidelined internationally if it quits the European Union, or significantly downgrades its membership.

The warning came through Philip Gordon, a senior US state department official, speaking in London yesterday. It was made in advance of a speech, probably this month, where Mr Cameron is expected to lay out his future plans on the UK’s EU membership.

“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. That is in America’s interests. We welcome an outward-looking EU with Britain in it,” said Mr Gordon.

The Americans oppose Mr Cameron’s plans to have a referendum on the outcome of talks with other EU states seeking to reduce the impact of EU regulation in the UK. “Countries which hold referendums tend to look inwards,” the US diplomat said. “We benefit when the EU is unified, speaking with a single voice and focused on our shared interests around the world and in Europe. The more the EU is focused on its internal debates, the less it’s able to be our unified partner abroad.”

Mr Cameron faces difficulties on every front, since most Conservative MPs demand withdrawal, or a reduced influence for Brussels, while British business leaders warn he is embarking on a road that threatens British interests.

Business leaders, including Virgin’s Richard Branson, warned in a letter that he should be “very careful not to call for a wholesale renegotiation of our EU membership which would almost certainly be rejected.

“To call for such a move in these circumstances would be to put our membership of the EU at risk and create damaging uncertainty for British business, which are the last things the prime minister would want to do,” they said.

Mr Cameron’s speech will guarantee a 2018 referendum, but not one offering voters an ‘in or out’ choice.