LONDON — Euroskeptic lawmakers in Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party reacted with anger to a call by the United States for Britain to remain part of the European Union (EU).
Philip Gordon, the assistant secretary of state for European Affairs, said Wednesday the United States wants Britain to stay in the EU as a “strong voice” and warned of the risks of holding a referendum on continued membership of the 27-nation bloc, the BBC reported, citing a briefing.
“The Obama administration now thinks the U.K. should be subservient to Brussels rule in many areas, just so the U.S. has a more acceptable lobbyist at the EU court,” former Cabinet minister John Redwood wrote on his blog. “The U.S. stance will probably recruit more U.K. citizens to the cause of a new and different relationship with the EU for the U.K. We have no wish to be told that we should lose our democracy in the cause of advancing America’s.”
Cameron is scheduled to make a speech setting out his policy on Britain’s future relationship with the EU in the coming weeks, under pressure from some members of his party to call a referendum on pulling out.
The U.K. staying in the EU is important to U.S. interests and a referendum would risk turning the country “inwards,” Gordon was cited as saying in the briefing for selected diplomatic correspondents in London.
“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,” Gordon was quoted as telling the reporters. “We welcome an outward-looking EU with Britain in it.”
Bernard Jenkin, the Tory chairman of the House of Commons Public Administration Committee, said Gordon’s intervention showed that U.S. governments do not understand the complexities of the EU.
“They have a default position that the United States of Europe is going to be the same as the United States of America. They haven’t got a clue,” he told BBC Radio 5. “The State Department in particular has long had this predilection that somehow European unity is a good thing and Britain ought to be in there, but I don’t think David Cameron is going to be dictated to based on such a misunderstanding.”
That view was echoed by another Tory lawmaker, Mark Pritchard.
“Whilst the U.S. understandably wants a stable and integrated Europe, U.S. lawmakers have not yet fully realized the national-security and foreign-policy implications of a united federal Europe which, over time, will develop an EU foreign policy replacing an independent U.K. foreign policy,” he said in a telephone interview. “This will not be good for U.S. interests or security as it is the U.K., not other EU members, who have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with America.”
Gordon stressed that the decision about membership is one for Britain, while pointing out the danger of the bloc spending too much time working on its structure rather than the economic and social challenges it faces.
“I’m not going to imagine an EU which ever buried any internal debates,” he was cited as saying. “But 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.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who leads Cameron’s pro-EU Liberal Democrat coalition partners, said Gordon’s comments were “entirely unsurprising” because of Britain’s importance to the United States.
“America has been saying for ages — since the 1950s — that Britain and the special relationship between Britain and America which has gone through thick and thin, through conflict and peace, is one that is based on the fact that we are valuable to our American friends,” he said on LBC radio. “They are perfectly entitled to say ‘Look, if you’re interested in the American perspective, we think Britain stands tall in the world if you stand tall in your own neighborhood.”’
Arguments in the Conservative Party over Europe dogged the time in office of John Major, the party’s last prime minister before Cameron, and show no sign of abating. The U.K. Independence Party, which seeks Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, is attracting the support of about 10 percent of respondents in opinion polls.
“I think Britain should do what’s in its interests, not what’s convenient for the Americans,” Conservative lawmaker Dominic Raab told BBC Radio 4 today. Gordon’s judgment “not only gets wrong Britain’s interest, but it gets wrong America’s interest.”
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