With a second term safely under his belt, President Obama appears to believe he has the political capital to meddle in the affairs of other Western nations.
A senior White House official has sparked outrage in Britain by publicly voicing concern over the prospect of Britain leaving the European Union. Philip Gordon, Obama’s point man on European affairs, said Britain’s membership in the EU is “in the American interest” and that London’s voice within the EU was “critical” to the U.S. He also warned that Britain risked turning “’inward” if it held a referendum on the issue.
Gordon’s intervention appears carefully timed. British Prime Minister David Cameron is set to deliver a major speech on Europe later this month in which he’s expected to set out plans to comprehensively renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU. Cameron is expected to say that Britain should stay out of the process of greater centralization, or “ever-closer union” that Europe has embarked upon, but should remain part of a broader European free trade zone. He also wants to repatriate powers lost to the EU in the last four decades over everything from immigration and human rights to employment law and fishing policy.
The PM has pledged to put any new arrangement to a referendum. However, many “euroskeptics,” both in Cameron’s Conservative Party and the UK Independence Party — which has been enjoying growing success as it attacks Cameron from the right on Europe — would prefer a straightforward in/out vote.
It’s inconceivable that Gordon’s remarks weren’t approved by President Obama, given the timing and Gordon’s seniority.
While it may benefit the U.S. to have Britain as an ally within the EU when, for example, it comes to discussions over financial regulation and trade agreements, the topic within Britain is not whether British membership in the EU is in America’s interest, but whether it is in their own. An increasing number of Britons are coming to the conclusion that it is not. Recent polls have shown that, for the first time, a majority supports leaving the EU.
There is no guarantee that Cameron will be successful in his planned negotiations. Some European leaders and officials are already warning Britain that it must be either “completely in” or “completely out,” with no middle ground possible. If push comes to shove, the Obama administration would clearly like the UK to be completely in.