Obama warns against British EU exit

US president says it is hard to imagine how London could benefit from leaving

US president Barack Obama speaks next to British prime minister David Cameron at a joint news conference after their meeting at the G7 summit in Brussels yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

US president Barack Obama speaks next to British prime minister David Cameron at a joint news conference after their meeting at the G7 summit in Brussels yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque


US president Barack Obama used the final press conference of the G7 summit to intervene in the debate over Britain’s membership of the European Union, saying it would be “hard to imagine” it would be advantageous for Britain to leave the bloc.

At the end of a two-day summit dominated by discussion on Ukraine, foreign policy and international trade, Mr Obama said Britain’s steadfastness had played a role in the creation of a “unified and extraordinarily prosperous” EU.

“We share a strategic vision with Great Britain on a whole range of international issues. It is always encouraging for us to know that Great Britain has a seat at the table in the larger European project,” the US president said, standing alongside British prime minister David Cameron.

“I think it is also hard for me to imagine that it would be advantageous for Great Britain to be excluded from political decisions that have an enormous impact on its economic and political life,” Mr Obama said.

Scottish independence

President Obama also gave his views on Scottish independence. While stressing it was a matter for the Scottish people, he said that “from the outside” things have worked very well for the UK. “We have a deep interest in making sure that one of the closest allies we will ever have remains a strong, robust, united and effective partner,” he added.

Mr Cameron said he continued to support Britain’s membership of a reformed EU, saying the recent European elections had reflected a growing disillusionment by EU citizens.

“When these things happen you can stick in your hand and wish these things would go away or you can try to reflect and understand these concerns,” he said.

Asked about his opposition to Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission, Mr Cameron said it was important to appoint people “who understand the need for change, who realise that if things go on as they have Europe is not going to serve its citizens”.

German chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday reiterated her government’s support for Mr Juncker as president of the commission, though added she that the process was not just about a single issue.

“There are a number of issues we have to deal with,” Dr Merkel said. Stressing the importance of working collectively to address the concerns of member states, she said Germany had “always been open-minded” about treaty change, though she added that the UK “possibly wants treaty change in another way than others”.

Ukraine communique

Meanwhile, the heads of the world’s most industrialised nations said they continued to be united in their response to Ukraine, welcoming the election of Petro Poroshenko as president following the May 25th elections.

In a joint communique, the G7 leaders urged Russia to recognise the results of the election, stop the flow of weapons across the border and exercise its influence on armed separatists to urge them to leave down their arms.

“We are united in condemning the Russia Federation’s continuing violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” the statement said.

French president François Hollande met Russian president Vladimir Putin last night in Paris in advance of today’s D-Day celebrations, with Dr Merkel due to meet the Russian president today.

Mr Obama said that while no bilateral meeting was planned, he had “no doubt” he would see Mr Putin at today’s event, noting that he had spoken to Mr Putin at various times by phone since the start of the Maidan protests in Kiev.

Extraordinary sacrifices

The US president said it was “entirely appropriate” that Mr Putin attends today’s events, “given the extraordinary sacrifices made by the people of the Soviet Union in World War II”.

The fact that Mr Putin had not denounced immediately the outcome of the May 25th election suggested the Russian president was “perhaps moving in a new direction,” he said.

Meanwhile, speaking to reporters after the summit, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe said there had been an attempt by China to “change the status quo” in the East China Sea.

“No intimidation will be tolerated,” he said, in relation to the ongoing dispute between Japan and China over the territorial status of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. He reiterated his comments made last month in Singapore in which he defended Japan’s rights to defend its interests.

“Suppose that conflicts break out in the vicinity of Japan, and . . . Japanese lives are in danger. In a situation like that, is it alright for the government not to be able to do anything? As the prime minister of Japan I have the responsibility to protect the lives of the people,”he said.