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Obama Slammed By British Conservatives For Interfering In UK Referendum

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Guy Bentley Research Associate, Reason Foundation

President Barack Obama is under fire from British Conservatives and American analysts for his vocal support Friday of the United Kingdom’s European Union membership. In 2016, the U.K. will vote for the first time in 40 years whether it wants to remain in the EU.

Speaking to the BBC, Obama said “having the UK in the EU gives us much greater confidence about the strength of the transatlantic union, and is part of the cornerstone of the institutions built after World War Two that has made the world safer and more prosperous.”

He went on to say “we want to make sure that the United Kingdom continues to have that influence.” Senior Conservative and former Cabinet minister Owen Paterson shot back, saying Obama was “trotting out the standard State Department consensus.”

Conservative member of the European Parliament Daniel Hannan was even more dismissive of the president’s comments tweeting “I accept that there may be some arguments for Britain staying in the EU. Humouring Barack Obama is not one of them.”

U.S. analysts were equally scathing about the president’s intervention. Luke Coffey, fellow at the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that Obama “may have an opinion, but it would be best if he kept it to himself. He knows very little if anything about the domestic debate on this issue.”

After the Conservatives’ surprise general election victory in May, Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to implement his manifesto commitment of a referendum on EU membership. For the past two months, he has been touring European capitals in an attempt to gain concessions on immigration and employment rules so he can recommend a vote to stay in a reformed EU.

The EU has long divided the Conservative Party and secession from it was the principal reason for the establishment of the UK Independence Party. At the last election, UKIP scooped up four million votes and came in third place.

Euroskeptic campaign groups, while hostile to the president’s position, are confident in maintaining a strong relationship with America. Director of the Freedom Association Rory Broomfield told TheDCNF the referendum was “a decision for the people of the UK. Nonetheless, regardless of whether they choose to stay within the EU or not, Britain and America share a wide range of common values, beliefs and outlooks. We should work together regardless of whether the UK is part of the EU. We have so much to gain as two independent nations.”

Euroskeptics argue that if Britain and the EU were amicably divorced, the country could free itself from swathes of regulation, sign its free trade agreements with the world’s fastest growing economies and avoid being dragged into a new United States of Europe.

“This idea we hear Washington that Britain can’t make it outside the EU is ridiculous,” said Coffey. “The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy, a permanent seat holder on the U.N. Security Council and is fifth largest military power but right now can’t even sign its own trade deals,” Coffey added.

The consensus view in Brussels is that in the wake of the Eurozone crisis there needs to be greater integration and centralisation of power. Such a move would be wildly unpopular in the UK, which is not a member of the Eurozone and fears being outvoted on major issues by the Eurozone block.

However, pro-EU lobbyists are gathering the support of the U.K.’s financial and business establishment to make the case for membership. As a member of the European single market, Britain benefits from the free movement of goods, services, capital and people across the EU. The Telegraph’s poll tracker suggests the majority of Brits would vote to stay in the EU.

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