Obama urges UK: Fix EU problems before 'breaking' relationship


Barack Obama: "Fix what's broken before you break it off, makes sense to me"

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US President Barack Obama has said the UK should try to "fix" its relationship with the EU before "breaking it off".

Speaking alongside David Cameron at the White House, Mr Obama said it was up to the British people to decide the matter but EU membership was an "expression" of the UK's global influence.

The PM said his plan to renegotiate the UK's EU membership with a referendum by the end of 2017 had "strong support".

Mr Cameron's strategy has faced criticism from some in his party.

Ahead of his White House talks Mr Cameron rounded on senior Conservatives wanting to leave the European Union, accusing them of "throwing in the towel" before negotiations had even started.

He called the position held by former cabinet ministers Lord Lawson and Michael Portillo "very, very strange".


Seventy MPs have now backed calls for a vote on an EU referendum on Wednesday.

The US president was asked about the growing number of senior Conservatives openly discussing the prospect of the UK leaving the EU and what this would mean for UK-US relations.

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From his body language and tone of voice, the prime minister is clearly irritated by the growing debate about Europe”

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He told reporters that Mr Cameron's "basic point that you probably want to see if you can fix what is broken in a very important relationship before you break it off - that makes some sense to me".

The US had a "special relationship" with the UK and an "active, robust, outward-looking" Britain that was "engaged with the world" helped underpin this partnership, he suggested.

"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," he added.

Mr Obama said he awaited the outcome of "tough negotiations" about the EU's future with interest, noting that the PM had been "very active" in pushing for structural reforms.

He also said he strongly supported a free trade deal between the EU and the US - discussed by the two leaders.

Mr Cameron said his European policy was driven by the national interest and he strongly believed that changing the UK's status within the EU was "achievable".

He said holding a referendum now, as some of his MPs are demanding, would amount to a "false choice" between the status quo and withdrawal. "That is not a choice the British people want or deserve," he added.

The PM's US trip comes as MPs have signed an amendment to the motion welcoming the Queen's Speech, in which they express "regret" about the absence of legislation paving the way for a referendum on the UK's membership of the EU.

'Throwing in the towel'

There has been a growing number of Conservatives calling for a firming up of the PM's pledge to renegotiate the UK's relations with the EU and to put membership to the public in a referendum by the end of 2017 if the Tories win the next election.

Others have gone further, with former cabinet minister Lord Lawson saying any gains from the renegotiations would be "inconsequential", while ex-defence secretary Michael Portillo has also advocated leaving the EU.

Mr Cameron said: "The point I would make to these people is that you shouldn't give up before a negotiation has started.

"It seems to be an extraordinary way to go about things... the idea of throwing in the towel before the negotiations even started, I think, is a very very strange opinion."

On Sunday Education Secretary Michael Gove and Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond said they would vote to leave the EU if there were a referendum now, a position echoed by ex-Scottish secretary Lord Forsyth on the BBC's Daily Politics on Monday.

Asked about their comments, Mr Cameron said: "Well there isn't going to be a referendum tomorrow so it's a hypothetical question."

Referendum calls

The prime minister has said he would campaign to stay within the EU if he was able to secure a new relationship.

A group of Conservative backbenchers, led by John Baron, has been campaigning for him to legislate in the current Parliament for a referendum.

Michael Gove: "I'm not happy with our position in the European Union"

The Commons amendment is highly unlikely to be passed, because Labour, the Lib Dems and many Conservatives will vote against it or abstain.

But Tory MP Gavin Barwell, one of five Conservative ministerial aides so far to say they will vote for the amendment, said he "completely trusted the PM" but the electorate did not trust politicians in general.

"What we need to do is to convince a sceptical electorate that we actually mean it," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"A very effective way of doing that would be to bring forward legislation, so we can go back to our constituents and say, look if you vote Conservative at the next election here is a guarantee that we will get a referendum."

But pro-European Conservative MPs have hit back, with Robert Buckland urging his colleagues to refrain from "irrelevant and arcane arguments" and to leave the prime minister to "get on with the job" of defending UK interests.

And Nicholas Soames said a future decision on the UK's relationship with the EU should be decided by an "orderly process" and not by "prejudice or pub rhetoric".

Party control

Labour opposes the decision to announce a referendum four years early, but is not ruling out the possibility of one in the future.

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said the economy, not Europe, was the "biggest problem" facing the country but a group of Labour MPs and peers, including the former Europe minister Keith Vaz, are calling for their party to support a referendum.

Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has criticised his larger Conservative coalition partners for their "endless navel-gazing over Europe", which he said was in danger of distracting the government from its priorities.

The leader of the UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage, told the BBC's Daily Politics that he was "open minded" about backing at the next election some Conservative or Labour MPs who wanted UK withdrawal from the EU.

He said there had already been some talks with individual local associations, now it was lawful for candidates to have two parties' logos on their ballot papers.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1114.

    I find this all totally startling. I whole-heartedly support the EU and European project. However, there are functions of it, particularly organisation-wise, that I do not like and want to be reformed. But to leave would be economically disastrous for this country, and the Tories are clearly off their collective heads. We need to remain involved and engaged if the UK can get changes to the EU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1113.

    Does anybody remember this?


    It's funny how some people only want democracy when they think they'll win.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1112.

    1091. Ivan The Cerebral
    "The larger, populist part seems to be poorly educated, part/unemployed, older, white, male smokers who live in bar rooms, often with no young of their own."

    Let's keep this debate informed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1111.

    @1080. He just does not get it does he, adding immigration to the Queen's speech

    I was just wondering if a vote against both immigration might affect members of the House of Saxe Coburg und Gotha?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1110.

    I don't have a problem with being in a 'club' with France, Germany etc. The problem is that the current EU is not the type of 'club' I feel it should be.

    So, if I had to vote now, I would vote to get out, but a better solution would be to renegotiate the terms for those who don't want the Euro.

    However, I don't think renegotiation has any chance of working, because the EU is power mad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1109.

    This is all navel gazing by our politicians. Most of the electorate only want minor changes to the UK's relationship with Europe, mainly about immigration and the right of the European courts to override our own and I'm sure that these could be sorted out if only some politicians would learn to keep quiet, which is not likely to happen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1108.

    PJ Proudhon Maybe Union Officials may have to work again outside the EEC, unlike now when they sit at meetings all day, then sign away all the workers rights.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1107.

    Personally u have to ask yourself why so many, Tories back UKIP's position a referendum or to give its correct name a (plebiscite)
    pleb an ordinary person, especially one from the lower social classes.
    Why now why on this issue why not on Trident, which is probably equally opposed by us plebs. They are normally are quite happy for us not to Vote and have destroyed working class politics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1106.

    1080. EarlyBaby Boomer
    Personally I do not have a problem with immigration, but I definitely have a problem with the loss of my freedoms


    You do realize that many Tories/UKIPers want out so they can REMOVE your freedoms? e.g. employment law, working time directive etc. as well as trimming your rights under the ECHR...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1105.

    @ 1040.
    Carl "Why can't we just have the referendum and let the polls decide? We could even call it something like... Democracy?"

    Our democracy is not based on referendums. We have had only 2 in the history of our parliament. AV vote in 2011 and joining common market in the 70's. Referendums are not legally binding to parliament (unlike other countries).

  • rate this

    Comment number 1104.

    We should be discussing reform of the EU as a whole not giving the impression that each country can pick and choose from the current set of laws/directives. It is not enough to renegotiate solely our own position within this club as it will continue to impact upon us whether we are in or out. What is required is an examination by all 27 (28) members of the fundamental role and scope of the EU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1103.

    "As soon as they tried to breaqk England into Regions and demand more MONEY !
    I and my Family Want Out of the corrupt diktat of this EU"

    That wasn't the EU - it was Prescott.
    An example of exactly why we shouldn't have a referendum in my opinion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1102.

    Call Me Dave DOES NOT have to worrry about renegotiationg the Current Treaty.

    As I am carefully explaining today, he needs to invite Angela, Herman and rest of the EU Crew to a meeting AT DOWNING STREET and present them with the new, British Authored, Way Forward For Europe.

    This is NOT a document for negotiation - it's a Rule Book they will all follow - without exception.

    Clear enough?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1101.

    We need a three way referendum: In, Out and "Return to the original free trade arrangement". We originally voted for the latter, but over the years it's become more and more a political union and this is what people object to. We need free trade but don't want all the political medelling such as over-zealous health and safety rules, convoluted human rights laws etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1100.

    Two years ago Cameron imposed a three line whip to prevent his own party from forcing a referendum on the EU. Basically he thinks voters are too stupid to make the right decision. Well 25% of us just voted UKIP because stupid or not we want Democracy & a say on EU membership!! The two main parties are arrogant & have forgotten that we decide our future, not them. They are meant to represent us!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1099.

    There unfortunately never be a fair vote. To much untrue s have been said about the EU. I only know that out of the EU will be the biggest mistake ever. It would be like all 50 of the United states making it on there own.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1098.

    The tories are once again showing us what a divided and shambolic party they are.

    We have the tories fighting among themselves whilst camoron is out of the country sucking up to President Obama. Frankly camoron should not be allowed to speak President Obama.

  • Comment number 1097.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1096.

    I don't understand why we cant have a simple YES/NO referendum with all the facts laid out for us to make up our own minds about staying in Europe.

    In the vote to stay in will kill UKIP and Euro-sceptics in all parties, a vote to leave will send a message to the euro-philes home and away. can you see Europe saying good by to the 2rd biggest net contributor to the coffers, I cant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1095.

    The rise of UKIP and the anti EU settlement will have an impact on the Scottish Referendum in 2014, especially as the EU elections will be in May 2014. Scotland is more pro EU than the rest of the UK and a major part of the debate is about the certainty of Scotland's future EU membership. As strong show by UKIP, and the Tories jumping on the anti EU band wagon, could increase the yes vote.


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