White House told to 'butt out' of debate over UK's role in EU
Eurosceptics furious at senior US official's call for Britain to stay a 'strong' member of Europe
A SENIOR representative of the Obama administration who said Britain needs to remain a "strong voice" within the EU or risk damaging its relationship with the US, has been told to "butt out" of the debate.
Speaking in London yesterday, Philip H Gordon (above centre) , Obama's assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, took the unusual step of expressing publicly the US's concerns about proposals for a referendum to decide on the UK's future in the EU.
He said the US valued a "strong UK voice in a strong European Union" and said Britain risked damaging relations with America if it "turned inward" by cutting ties with Brussels.
ITV says the message from the US administration couldn't be clearer given that Gordon is Obama's "point man" on Europe. And the BBC's chief political correspondent Norman Smith described it as a "significant development" in the debate.
Eurosceptics leading the push for a referendum on whether Britain should pull out of Europe were naturally unimpressed by Gordon's intervention. Obama should "butt out" of plans for a referendum, said The Commentator. "Anti-democratic practices from Brussels are bad enough without Americans encouraging the eurocrats' worst instincts," the website said.
David Cameron, who wants the UK to stay in Europe, but is under mounting pressure from within his party to hold a referendum on the issue, played down the comments today. "The US wants an outward-looking EU with Britain in it, and so do we," he said in a statement.
The PM is preparing to give a speech on Europe later this month and The Independent says he's likely to offer to "renegotiate" the UK's membership of the EU and then put the new terms to a referendum.
Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander told the Radio 4 Today programme this morning that Gordon's comments had increased the pressure on Cameron to resist calls to quit the EU. He pointed out that Gordon's remarks came just a day after the chiefs of some of the UK's biggest companies wrote an open letter saying a major change in the country's position within the EU would cause "damaging uncertainty" and stifle investment.
"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," Alexander said.
But Eurosceptics are undeterred. The Conservative MP Douglas Carswell dismissed Gordon's comments today, tweeting: "A US official believes UK should continue to be ruled by EU officials. Hardly surprising - it's how officials think."