BRUSSELS (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Thursday gave the strongest signal yet that the United States wanted to see the United Kingdom remain inside the European Union and Scotland to preserve its 307-year-old union with England.
Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to try to renegotiate Britain’s ties with the EU to claw back a range of powers if re-elected next year and to then give Britons a referendum on whether to remain inside the EU in 2017.
In just over three months, on Sept. 18, another big vote - a referendum in Scotland on whether to break away from the United Kingdom and declare independence - will also be held.
When asked at a G7 news conference in Brussels what the votes in Scotland and Europe meant to him and the people of the United States, Obama said the Scottish vote was for Scots to decide but that the United States wanted a “united” partner.
“From the outside at least it looks like things have worked pretty well and we obviously have a deep interest in making sure that one of the closest allies that we will ever have remains a strong, robust, united and effective partner,” Obama said.
Polls show Scots are unlikely to vote to leave the UK, with roughly 40 percent against independence and 30 percent in favor. But there are enough undecided Scots to swing the vote.
In a pointed response to Obama, Scottish nationalist leader Alex Salmond said the decision on independence was up to the people of Scotland and that he was glad the U.S. experience of gaining independence through conflict could be avoided.
“As President Obama rightly observes, the decision on Scotland’s future is up to the people of Scotland,” Salmond said in a statement emailed to reporters, adding that the United States could gain a friend if Scotland declared independence.
“We are deeply fortunate as a nation that we have the opportunity to gain our nation’s independence in such a profoundly democratic way, as Mr Obama himself previously acknowledged – and not through conflict as has been the case with so many nations, including the United States itself.”
Speaking to reporters at a joint news conference with Cameron, Obama also made it clear he’d prefer Britain to stay inside the EU, saying it was encouraging for Washington to know its ally had “a seat at table in the larger European project”.
He said the 70th anniversary of the World War Two D-Day landings was a reminder of Britain’s role in bringing Europe together, saying he struggled to imagine the European project working without Britain or Britain prospering outside it.
“It is hard for me to imagine that project going well in the absence of Great Britain and I think it is also hard for me to imagine that it would be advantageous for Great Britain to be excluded from political decisions that have an enormous impact on its economic and political life,” Obama said.
Writing by Kylie MacLellan in London; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Andrew Osborn