US intervention on EU opens rift in UK leadership

UK leadership

An outspoken intervention by a senior US official who said Britain should not leave the European Union opened up a new rift between Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy on Thursday.

Cameron played down any suggestion of a disagreement with Washington over Britain's EU membership, but Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, his junior coalition partner, said US concerns over Europe were spot on.

Both men were reacting after Philip H. Gordon, the US assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, told a media briefing in London the previous day that Washington feared a British exit from the EU would run counter to US interests.

Gordon's intervention, a rare foray into an emotive domestic debate, made front-page news in Britain, where Cameron is preparing to deliver a speech setting out his plans to try to renegotiate the country's relationship with the EU and then put the deal to a vote.

Cameron faces a dilemma. Many MPs in his own ruling Conservative Party are pressuring him to call a fully fledged referendum on whether Britain should remain in the EU, a demand backed by opinion polls which show a majority of Britons would, if given the chance, vote to leave the 27-nation bloc.

But business leaders in Britain have said they are strongly opposed to the prospect of the country radically downgrading ties with its biggest trading partner, while international partners from the United States to Germany and Ireland have made it clear they oppose a British EU exit or "Brixit" and think such a move would isolate and damage Britain itself.

Speaking on Wednesday, Gordon stressed that it was up to Britain to determine its relationship with the European Union and said the United States and Britain would always have a "special relationship".

"At the same time," he added, "we have a growing relationship with the European Union as an institution which has an increasing voice in the world and we want to see a strong British voice in that European Union.

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