In the press conference following the meeting between the two leaders at the White House, Obama addressed the UK leaving the EU’s matter: “David’s [Cameron] 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 makes some sense to me. I know that David’s been very active in seeking some reforms internal to the EU”, adding that “those are tough negotiations, you’ve got a lot of countries involved, I recognize that. We haven’t yet evaluated how successful those reforms will be. I at least would be interested in seeing whether or not those are successful before rendering a final judgment.”
The issue of a possible referendum over UK leaving the EU came up this weekend as Cameron’s cabinet members Michael Gove and Philip Hammond said on Sunday they would vote to leave the European Union if a consultation were to be held now.
The US raised the alarms over the issue earlier this year, and called for Britain to remain in the European Union because they believed the UK was stronger being in the EU, and the EU was stronger for that its members aren’t taking Britain seriously, as it happened with the exclusion of UK in recent accords in Brussels.
One of the key issues here is the eventual free trade agreement between the US and the EU, set to start in June and known as TAFTA. It is not only about a reduction in tariffs, already low, but also about common safety and services rules for companies to make business across the Atlantic. In this respect, Cameron said that he wanted to open up talks even before the G8 summit, next June 17th and 18th in Northern Ireland.
In the modern version of the special relationship, what Carney called the essential relationship, Britain is valued as an ally precisely because it is one of the leaders of the biggest economy in the world. Some in Washington think Mr Cameron’s speech threatens that role and introduces more unnecessary uncertainty to an already uncertain world.
Until recently, the promise of a referendum from Mr Cameron was seen in Washington as just another phase in the rocky relationship between the UK and continental Europeans. But now alarm bells are ringing. The White House doesn’t care about the EU’s internal organization, and Europe is hardly its biggest concern anyway, but Mr Cameron’s promise is definitely an unwanted irritation.