WASHINGTON/LONDON (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said on Thursday he thought Britain would be better off out of the European Union, the opposite stance to that taken by his likely rival Hillary Clinton and by many political leaders around the world.
Britons will vote in a referendum on June 23 on whether to leave the 28-member EU, a momentous decision with trade, investment, defense and political ramifications that stretch far beyond Britain’s borders.
“I would say that they’re better off without it personally, but I’m not making that as a recommendation - just my feeling,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News television, adding that he wanted Britons to make their own decision.
“I think the migration has been a horrible thing for Europe. A lot of that was pushed by the EU,” he said, without providing any specifics.
Initial reaction to Trump’s comments, which went further than what he had previously said on the subject, was muted in Britain where the focus was on the incoming results of local and regional elections.
Given Trump’s controversial statements and his negative image in the eyes of many Europeans, including Britons, it is not clear whether his endorsement would be good, bad or indifferent for Britain’s “Leave” campaign.
A spokesman for the campaign declined to comment.
U.S. President Barack Obama made a passionate intervention in the EU debate during a visit to London last month, saying EU membership magnified Britain’s role in the world and made it more prosperous.
Obama warned Britons their country would find itself “in the back of the queue” for a trade deal with the United States if they voted to leave the EU.
The “Remain” camp, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, has repeatedly said that none of Britain’s significant allies wants it to leave the bloc.
On Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe became the latest foreign leader to say it would be better for Britain and its allies if it remained in the European club.
After Obama’s intervention, the “Remain” campaign published an advertisement with side-by-side photos of Obama smiling and Trump with a distorted facial expression and a finger in the air.
The slogan read: “Obama thinks the UK is stronger in Europe. Trump thinks the UK should leave Europe. Whose side are you on?”
The image suggested that the official “Remain” campaign viewed Trump as repellent to British voters. A spokesman for the campaign had no immediate comment on Friday.
Reporting by Eric Walsh and Tim Ahmann in Washington, Kate Holton and Estelle Shirbon in London; editing by Stephen Addison