By Martin Kelly
US President Barack Obama has intervened in the internal row over the Conservative party’s growing EU scepticism.
In a meeting with UK Prime Minister David Cameron, the US President broke with protocol and publicly called on the Conservative leader to sort out the mess that is threatening the UK’s EU membership.
Speaking at a press conference, Mr Obama said: “Ultimately the people of the UK have to make decisions for themselves. But I will say this: the basic point is that you probably want to see if you can fix what is broken in a very important relationship before you break it off. It makes some sense to me.”
He added: “I know that David has been very active in seeking some reforms internal to the EU. Those are tough negotiations. There will be a lot of countries involved. I recognise that. But so long as we haven’t yet evaluated how successful those reforms will be, you know, I, at least, would be interested in seeing whether or not those are successful before rendering a final judgment.”
The US President also signalled that the so called ‘special relationship’ enjoyed by the UK, could be under threat if UK influence at European level became diminished.
He said: “With respect to the relationship between the UK and the EU we have a special relationship with the United Kingdom. And we believe that our capacity to partner with a United Kingdom that is active, robust, outward-looking, and engaged with the world is hugely important to our own interests, as well as the world.
“And I think the UK’s participation in the EU is an expression of its influence and its role in the world, as well as, obviously, a very important economic partnership.”
Mr Obama’s comments are being presented as backing for the under fire Prime Minister by his team. However the intervention by the US President has been criticised by some Conservative figures amid claims it could strengthen the resolve of Euro-sceptic rebels.
Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation, and a former aide to the late PM said:
“This is the latest in a series of arrogant and hectoring interventions by the Obama administration in what is essentially an internal British political debate.”
Mister Cameron was in Washington to discuss the easing of trade conditions between the EU and the US. The topic is set to be discussed at next month’s G* summit.
The intervention of the President is a clear signal that Washington is not happy with the rift at the heart of the UK government. It will pile pressure on Mr Cameron to confront Tory MPs angry at the refusal of the PM to bring forward a referendum on the EU.
A draft Bill on an EU referendum is to be presented to the UK Parliament today [Tuesday] amid growing pressure from Cabinet Ministers and back bench Tory MPs keen to take advantage of the march of UKIP in England and a growing anti-EU sentiment. A separate rebel amendment calling for an early ballot is also expected be presented.
Mr Cameron has already pledged to hold an in/out referendum on EU membership in 2017, however there are growing calls from within his own party for this to be brought forward.
Two Cabinet ministers – Education Secretary Michael Gove and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond – have said they would vote for a British EU exit if a referendum were held now. Two ministerial aides, Conservative MPs Stuart Andrew and Gavin Barwell, said they will back the rebel amendment.
The situation has been brought to the fore in the Scottish independence debate with the SNP claiming that a No vote would put Scotland’s EU membership at risk.
Speaking at a campaign event yesterday in which the SNP pushed women’s rights and welfare to the top of the agenda, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the anti-independence campaign could not confirm whether the UK would still be in the EU in 2020.
The SNP has insisted that only a Yes vote in 2014 will ensure Scotland’s continued EU membership.