US President Barack Obama will head to Britain next month and make the case for the UK to stay in the European Union, a British newspaper reported yesterday (13 March).
The visit will take place towards the end of April, around two months before the 23 June referendum in which Britain will decide whether to leave or stay in the 28-country bloc, The Independent on Sunday said.
A spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron’s Downing Street office refused to comment on the report, calling it “speculation”.
Obama is heading to Germany in late April to talk trade with Chancellor Angela Merkel and promote US exports at the Hannover fair, said to be the world’s largest for industrial technology, which takes place on 25 and 29 April.
In February, Obama spoke with Cameron by phone and “reaffirmed continued US support for a strong United Kingdom in a strong European Union,” according to the White House.
Washington has long backed Britain playing a central role in the world’s largest economic bloc, and has warned that the UK-US “special relationship” could be at risk if it were to leave.
Leave.EU, one of the campaign groups calling for Britain to pull out of the EU, blasted the reported plans for intervention by Obama.
“People in this country have had enough of American presidents dictating our foreign policy to us,” said the campaign’s spokesman Jack Montgomery.
Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London and a prominent pro-Brexit campaigner, criticised Obama, arguing that his own citizens would never accept a structure like the EU.
“In urging us to embed ourselves more deeply in the EU’s federalising structures, the Americans are urging us down a course they would never dream of going themselves,” Johnson wrote in the Telegraph.
“That is because they are a nation conceived in liberty. They sometimes seem to forget that we are quite fond of liberty, too.”
Cameron favours keeping Britain in the EU, following a renegotiation of the country’s relations with Brussels.
Opinion polls indicate that the race is finely balanced, with those who want to remain at 51% and those in favour of leaving at 49%, according to a poll of the polls by the What UK Thinks research project.
The EU and its leaders have reportedly no intention to campaign ahead of the 23 June referendum. An attempt by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker last July to advise the Greeks to vote “yes” in a referendum to accept or reject a bailout deal turned out to be counterproductive.
During his campaign fro re-election in 2015, British Prime Minister David Cameron promised to renegotiate the UK's relations with the European Union and organise a referendum to decide whether or not Britain should remain in the 28-member bloc.
The British PM said he will campaign for Britain to remain in the EU after a two-day summit in Brussels where he obtained concessions from the 27 other EU leaders to give Britain “special status” in the EU.
But EU leaders had their red lines, and ruled out changing fundamental EU principles, such as the free movement of workers, and a ban on discriminating between workers from different EU states.
The decision on whether to stay or go could have far-reaching consequences for trade, investment and Great Britain's position on the international scene.
The campaign will be bitterly contested in a country with a long tradition of euroscepticism and a hostile right-wing press, with opinion polls showing Britons are almost evenly divided.
- 23 June: Referendum.
- July-December 2017: United Kingdom holds rotating EU Council Presidency.