* Cameron under international pressure over EU policy
* U.S. has said it wants Britain to stay in EU
* Cameron says wants to renegotiate relationship with EU
By Andrew Osborn and Peter Griffiths
LONDON, Jan 10 An outspoken intervention by a
senior U.S. official who said Britain should not leave the
European Union opened up a new rift between Prime Minister David
Cameron and his deputy on Thursday.
Cameron played down any suggestion of a disagreement with
Washington over Britain's EU membership, but Deputy Prime
Minister Nick Clegg, his junior coalition partner, said U.S.
concerns over Europe were spot on.
Both men were reacting after Philip H. Gordon, the U.S.
assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs,
told a media briefing in London the previous day that Washington
feared a British exit from the EU would run counter to U.S.
Gordon's intervention, a rare foray into an emotive domestic
debate, made front-page news in Britain, where Cameron is
preparing to deliver a speech setting out his plans to try to
renegotiate the country's relationship with the EU and then put
the deal to a vote.
Cameron faces a dilemma. Many MPs in his own ruling
Conservative Party are pressuring him to call a fully fledged
referendum on whether Britain should remain in the EU, a demand
backed by opinion polls which show a majority of Britons would,
if given the chance, vote to leave the 27-nation bloc.
But business leaders in Britain have said they are strongly
opposed to the prospect of the country radically downgrading
ties with its biggest trading partner, while international
partners from the United States to Germany and Ireland have made
it clear they oppose a British EU exit or "Brixit" and think
such a move would isolate and damage Britain itself.
Speaking on Wednesday, Gordon stressed that it was up to
Britain to determine its relationship with the European Union
and said the United States and Britain would always have a
"At the same time," he added, "we have a growing
relationship with the European Union as an institution which has
an increasing voice in the world and we want to see a strong
British voice in that European Union.
"That is in the American interest. What is in the British
interest is for the British people and British government to
Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic often refer to
ties between Britain and the United States as the "special
relationship", a phrase coined by former British prime minister
Winston Churchill, whose mother was American.
But in recent years some analysts and politicians have
questioned how closely the United States listens to Britain and
whether the days of a privileged alliance are in the past.
Asked on Thursday whether Gordon's comments that the United
States wanted Britain to stay in the EU were appropriate, the
response from the prime minister's official spokesman was dry.
"He was setting out his views," he said.
"What Philip Gordon was setting out yesterday was that the
U.S. is strongly in favour of an outward-looking European Union
with Britain in it and that is very much our view."
The defensive response contrasted with that of Clegg, the
leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, the junior member of the
two-party coalition government.
The two coalition members have clashed on everything from
reform of the upper house of parliament to cuts in state
handouts but have pledged to continue to govern together in the
knowledge that they would lose an election to the opposition
Labour party if such a vote was held today.
Clegg, who has derided Cameron's idea of repatriating some
powers from the EU as "a false promise wrapped in a Union Jack",
has made clear his party does not want to see Britain distance
itself from the EU at all.
"In one sense it's entirely unsurprising," he said of
Gordon's comments. "Americans have been saying for generations
now, for ages, since the 1950s, that Britain and the special
relationship between Britain and America is one that is partly
based on the fact that we are valuable to our American friends,"
Clegg told LBC radio.
"They are perfectly entitled to say 'look if you're
interested in the American perspective, we think Britain stands
taller in the world if you stand tall in your own neck of the
Tim Bale, a politics professor at the University of London
told Reuters, pressure was building on Cameron to "decide which
side of the fence he's on" over Europe.
"The American intervention has made that all the more
urgent," he said.
In Dublin, Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the EU
executive, talked up the value of Britain being an EU member,
detailing policy areas where its influence has been positive.
"We believe it's very much in the interests of the European
Union to have Britain at the centre of the European project," he
said. "Many of our, let's say achievements, from the deepening
of the single market to enlargement ... were possible also
because of British commitment."
The head of the German parliament's influential EU Affairs
Committee took a different approach, warning Britain against
trying to "blackmail" other countries in its push to fashion a
new relationship with Europe.
Gunther Krichbaum's comments came after the prime minister's
spokesman reiterated Cameron's determination to try to alter the
nature of Britain's relationship with the EU.
"The prime minister's view is that he wants a change in
Britain's relationship with the European Union and to seek fresh
consent for that," the spokesman said.
The U.S. comments raised hackles elsewhere. Dominic Raab, a
lawmaker from the Conservative party, told the BBC Britain
needed to do what was in its own interests and "not what is
convenient for the Americans".
Nigel Farage, the leader of the anti-EU UK Independence
Party, which has surged in the polls on the back of eurosceptic
sentiment, was more blunt.
"The UK is a good and candid friend of the U.S., but having
a historic special relationship should never mean being
America's poodle," he said in a statement.
Daniel Hannan, a Conservative lawmaker in the European
Parliament and a prominent eurosceptic, was equally scathing.
"Of all the bad arguments for remaining in the EU, the
single worst is that we should do so in order to humour Barack
Obama, the most anti-British president for nearly 200 years."