LONDON The United States wants Britain to stay in the European Union and fears that a possible referendum on its membership of the 27-nation bloc would be divisive and make Britain inward-looking, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday.
The comments come as British Prime Minister David Cameron prepares to deliver a long-awaited speech on Britain's ties with Europe and mounting calls for a referendum on whether to leave the European Union after 40 years.
"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," Philip Gordon, U.S. assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, told reporters at a briefing in London, according to two journalists present at the meeting.
Cameron says he wants to renegotiate ties with Europe and to then seek the public's "fresh consent" for a new settlement. In the coming weeks, he is widely expected to offer a referendum on Europe that could be held after the next election in 2015.
Cameron says he does not want to leave Europe, its biggest trading partner, but "euroscepticism" has increased among Conservative lawmakers and the public in recent years, with the anti-Europe UK Independence Party making gains in local polls in 2012.
Urging Britain and the EU to focus on big issues such as economic growth and jobs, Gordon said that "referendums have often turned countries inward".
"It is best for everyone, we think, when leaders have the time to be able to millfocus on common challenges rather than spending their time on internal workings.
"Every hour at a summit spent debating the institutional make-up of the European Union is one hour less spent on how to deal with the common issues of jobs, growth and international peace around the world."
(Reporting by Mohammed Abbas and Peter Griffiths; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Angus MacSwan)