Obama Weighs In on EU Membership Debate, Urges U.K. to Stay In

U.S. President Barack Obama weighed in on the debate over the U.K.’s European Union membership, saying it must stay part of the bloc to continue to have influence on the world stage.

“Having the U.K. in the EU gives us much greater confidence about the strength of the trans-Atlantic union,” Obama said in a BBC interview at the White House Thursday. He said the EU is part of the “cornerstone” of institutions built after World War II that makes the world “safer and more prosperous,” and that he hopes the U.K. “continues to have that influence.”

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron plans to hold a referendum on whether or not to stay in the EU by the end of 2017, after he seeks to renegotiate Britain’s terms of membership. Cameron wants to restrict the bloc’s ability to make rules for Britain and discourage migration from within the EU, while preserving the single market. He has said he will campaign to stay in the EU if he gets the reforms he wants.

Obama called the U.K. the U.S.’s “best partner” because of its willingness to project power beyond its “immediate self-interests to make this a more orderly, safer world.” He said the values shared by the U.K. and the U.S. are “the right ones, not just for ourselves, but for Europe as a whole.”

In an article in Friday’s Daily Mail newspaper, Cameron, who’ll visit Southeast Asia next week, argued that Britain needs to turn its focus away from Europe to help boost exports and the economy.

“With some of our neighbors’ economies stagnating and markets further afield roaring ahead, we need to change our approach,” Cameron said. “We need to go to the ends of the earth to sell our wares -– to recapture the outward-looking, enterprising spirit that made us great.”

‘Greatly Diminished’

U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage criticized Obama’s comments, saying the EU was weakening Britain, rather than increasing its influence. UKIP came in third in May’s general election in terms of votes cast on a platform of withdrawal from the EU to limit immigration.

“The fact is that inside the EU, the U.K.’s global standing is greatly diminished given that we are prohibited from negotiating our own trade deals,” Farage said in an e-mailed statement. “How can a country have a true global influence when it cannot agree to such deals on the world stage?”

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