UK Politics

Nick Clegg: UK 'valuable' to US partly because of EU

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Media captionNick Clegg: US opinion is "entirely unsurprising"

The UK is "valuable" to the US partly because it is a member of the EU, the deputy prime minister has said.

It comes after the Obama administration expressed concern about the impact of a UK referendum on its future in the EU.

Mr Clegg said if the UK wanted to lead in the world you had to be "strong in your neck of the woods".

No 10 said David Cameron wanted changes to EU relations, adding it was "hardly news" the two men took a different approach to the future of Europe.

Mr Clegg, who was speaking on the first of his weekly radio phone-ins on LBC, said it was up to the UK to decide how it handles its relationship with Europe, but the Americans were entitled to express their views.

He said: "Americans have been saying since the 1950s that Britain and the special relationship between Britain and America is one that is partly based on the fact that we're valuable to our American friends, and important to people in Beijing and Tokyo, because we stand tall in our own neighbourhood.

"If you want to lead around the world - and this a globalised environment we're working in - the first thing you've got to do is be strong in your neck of the woods and I think that's the point they're making."

The EU and the single market were crucial for British jobs and helped the UK tackle cross border crime, he added.

'Strong British voice'

David Cameron is facing pressure to hold a referendum on Europe at some stage during the next Parliament and has been criticised by some in his own party for not doing more to distance the UK from the EU.

Mr Cameron wants the UK to remain within the EU but believes there is a need to redefine the relationship in light of moves towards further integration by countries using the single currency.

He has suggested that "fresh consent" from the UK people could be sought for any new deal that emerges as a result of negotiations with other EU countries.

However, many Conservative MPs want him to go further and to commit to a referendum on the question of whether the UK remains in the EU or not - a so-called "in-out vote".

Philip Gordon, the US assistant secretary for European affairs in the US State Department, told journalists on Wednesday that the UK would always be a key ally of the US and that "what is in the UK's interests is up to the UK".

But he added: "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. We welcome an outward-looking EU with Britain in it."

Discussing the often "inward-looking" history of EU negotiations, Mr Gordon said that "referendums have often turned countries inward".

"The more the EU reflects on its internal debate, the less it is able to be unified," he said.

'Divisive rows'

In response to Mr Gordon's comments, No 10 said: "The US wants an outward-looking EU with Britain in it, and so do we."

Conservative MP Dominic Raab, a Eurosceptic, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that a more unified Europe would actually "decouple" the UK and the US and lead to "divisive rows".

He said Britain needed to do what was in its interests and "not what is convenient for the Americans" and argued that the US had misunderstood the consequences of a more unified EU.

He said: "Historically the US wanted two contradictory things out of Europe and out of Britain in Europe. Since Kissinger's day we've heard that plea - when I deal with Europe who do I call? The Americans want the united Europe because, as a matter of convenience, they've got one port of call, one telephone that they need to ring up.

"But that inevitably means more integration and more federalism. The irony is that the more the EU unifies, the more federalist it becomes, the more decoupled Britain would become from America and the less anglo saxon its outlook would be.

"The more the EU stands up on its own two feet the more we're going to see very divisive rows with the US. We had it over Iraq, Kyoto, the ICC, the war on terror. If the UK was part of that federalising approach... we would inevitably become more decoupled from the US."

Labour's shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said the US had recognised that Britain's influence in the world and its relationship with the US was strengthened by its membership of the EU.

"It gives us influence over the world's largest single market, but it also strengthens out relationship the United states and critically it amplifies the United Kingdom's influence in a world where both economic and political power is shifting to the east," he said.

"David Cameron is marooned between a party that wants a referendum as a proxy for exit and public who I think understand that the overriding challenge for Britain is to deliver investment, jobs and prosperity."

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